Treatment for Head and Neck Cancers

photo of physician sitting at a table looking at an illustration of neck cancer on a tablet

Traditionally, most head and neck cancers are treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. More recently immunotherapy has been introduced into the treatment arsenal. Surgery is performed by a head and neck oncologic surgeon, radiation therapy given by a radiation oncologist, and chemotherapy or immunotherapy is delivered by a medical oncologist. 

The sequence and combinations of therapy can vary depending on the patient and the primary site of the cancer within the head or neck. For example, oral cavity (mouth) cancers are treated with surgery and in many cases this is the only treatment necessary. When disease is more advanced, additional treatment is required that may include radiation or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation given at the same time. In other locations such as nasopharynx (uppermost part of the throat) cancers are usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation given at the same time. 

Sometimes the same primary site can be treated differently depending on how advanced the cancer is: for example, early stage laryngeal (voicebox) cancer may be treated with radiation alone or laser surgery and more advanced disease that requires a combination of two treatment modalities may be treated with chemotherapy combined with radiation. 

The Head and Neck Cancer Program offers the most advanced minimally invasive surgical and radiation treatment techniques currently available including transoral robotic surgery (TORS), transoral laser microsurgery (TLM), endoscopic skull base surgery, microvascular free flap reconstruction and proton therapy

Patients are also evaluated for multimodality treatments and participation in clinical trials, some of which are only available at National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers.