Treatments & Therapy
Treatment for head and neck cancer varies greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy or new immunotherapy to treat or control your cancer.
Surgery may be part of an overall treatment plan or may be used for treating recurrence or new tumors. A specially-trained head and neck surgical oncologist removes a tumor and some tissue around it. The surgeon also may remove some nearby lymph nodes.
Surgery may employ the use of lasers to do precise surgery and remove cancer or precancerous growths or to relieve symptoms of cancer. Laser surgery is used most often to treat cancers on the surface of the body or the lining of internal organs.
Radiation Therapy (“Radiotherapy”)
Radiation therapy involves using X-rays and other types of medical radiation. Aimed at specific parts of the body, it is used to kill cancer cells, prevent cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improve many of the symptoms caused by cancer. It can be used together with chemotherapy for certain cancers (this is called “chemo-radiotherapy”).
Chemotherapy involves using drugs proven to slow down, damage or kill cancer cells. This may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often applied in three or four week cycles. Your medical team may also prescribe other drugs to reduce or eliminate chemotherapy’s side effects.
Anti-Cancer Drug Therapy
Single drugs or combinations of drugs taken through intravenous injections or as tablets/capsules prescribed to a patient to help fight the cancer itself or the side effects from chemotherapy. Patients may take the drugs in repeating patterns, called “cycles”, that usually last three to four weeks.
Targeted therapies are anti-cancer drugs or other substances that directly interfere with cancer growth and progression on a molecular level. They may be taken (with few side effects) on their own or in combination with standard chemotherapy. Many new targeted therapies, including vaccines and gene therapies, are currently in development.
Your medical team may also recommend that you participate in a clinical trial. The University of Colorado Hospital conducts hundreds of clinical trials in an ongoing effort to discover and deliver more effective treatments. They may offer access to drugs, vaccines and new kinds of treatment years before they are widely available.
Other therapies being tested through clinical trials:
Angiogenesis inhibitors are substances that may prevent the formation of blood vessels. In anti-cancer therapy, an angiogenesis inhibitor prevents the growth of blood vessels to keep them from “feeding” a cancerous tumor.
Biologic therapy (biotherapy or immunotherapy)
These are treatments that join with the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances – some made by the body, some made in a laboratory – help boost, direct or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer.