Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer

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Treating Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer TOPICS

How are oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General treatment information

After the cancer is found and staged, your doctor will discuss treatment choices with you. Based on the stage and location of the tumor, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors may include:

  • An otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose, and throat, or ENT doctor): a surgeon who treats certain diseases of the head and neck.
  • An oral and maxillofacial surgeon: a dental surgeon who treats diseases of the mouth, teeth, and jaws.
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy.

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, speech therapists, and other health professionals.

It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer?” If time permits, it is often a good idea to get a second opinion. A second opinion can provide you with more information and help you feel confident about your chosen treatment plan.

The main treatment options for people with oral and oropharyngeal cancers are:

These may be used either alone or in combination, depending on the stage and location of the tumor. In general, surgery is the first treatment for cancers of the oral cavity, and may be followed by radiation or combined chemotherapy and radiation. Oropharyngeal cancers are usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.

It is important to take time and think about all of your choices. When you choose a treatment plan, consider your overall health, the type and stage of the cancer, the chances of curing the disease, and the possible impact of the treatment on important functions like speech, chewing, and swallowing.

The next few sections describe the various types of treatments and how they are used for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. This is followed by a description of the most common approaches used for these cancers, based on their stage and where they started.

The “Additional resources for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers” section also includes a list of other, more detailed materials on the different types of cancer treatment and their side effects.

Last Medical Review: 07/16/2014
Last Revised: 03/02/2015