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Head and Neck Cancer Treatment: New Approaches

If you’ve been diagnosed with a type of head or neck cancer, you probably have a lot of questions about what to expect. A diagnosis of any type of cancer can be frightening, and these forms are no exception. Fortunately, there are several options for head and neck cancer treatment. Here’s what you need to know to help you and your physician make an informed decision.

Types of Head and Neck Cancer

Treatment of head or neck cancer can depend on the type of the disease. There are several different types of these cancers, including:

  • Salivary glands – These glands are located in the floor of the mouth near the jawbone.
  • Oral cavity – Cancers can grow in or on the lips, tongue, gums, inner lining of the cheeks, and hard palate.
  • Pharynx – Also known as the throat, this hollow tube is about five inches long. Cancer can affect any of its three main sections.
  • Larynx – This passageway below the pharynx is also called the voice box. It includes the vocal cords and epiglottis, the small piece of tissue that prevents food from entering it.
  • Nasal cavity and sinuses – These hollow spaces are located inside and around the nose, respectively.

Head and Neck Cancer Treatments

A number of other factors can influence the kind of head and neck cancer treatment your doctor recommends, such as the stage of the cancer (how advanced it is), how quickly it grows, where it is located, and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. Depending on these factors and on your general health, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery: Some people with head or neck cancer may have the tumor and cancerous tissue surgically removed. Your surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes to determine whether cancer has spread.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to help kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: This type of head and neck cancer treatment involves the use of drugs, either injected into the body or taken by mouth, to destroy cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Researchers continue to discover exciting new treatments for cancer, including head and neck cancer. One of these approaches, called immunotherapy, harnesses the power of a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. In the case of head and neck cancers, physicians may use medications to target specific molecules that either block or stimulate certain immune responses. As a result, immunotherapy may help stimulate your own immune system to destroy cancer cells.

Your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you based on your disease. You should consult your doctor about what techniques and head and neck cancer treatment may be the best options for you.

To learn more about new cancer research and treatment methods, visit UPMC Hillman Cancer Center online or contact us today.