Palliative Treatment for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer

Many treatments for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer are intended to remove or to destroy the cancer cells or slow their growth. But maintaining a patient’s quality of life is another important goal of treatment. This is true for people being treated to try to cure the cancer and for people whose cancer is too advanced to be cured. If the goal of treatment is a cure, palliative treatments can help ease symptoms from the cancer treatment itself. If the cancer is advanced, palliative treatment might play an even larger role, helping to keep the person comfortable and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.

Pain is a significant concern for many people with cancer. It can almost always be treated with milder drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen or, if needed, with stronger medicines like morphine or drugs like it (known as opioids). For more on pain, what can be done about it, and how to keep track of it, see Cancer Pain.

Nutrition is another important concern for people with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancers. Both the cancer and its treatment can make it hard to swallow. If this affects how a person eats or drinks, a feeding tube may be needed. (See Surgery for Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer.) This tube will most likely be needed for a short time during treatment, but in some cases it may need to be left in longer. For more about what to eat during cancer treatment, see Nutrition for People with Cancer.

There are many other ways your doctor can help you maintain your quality of life and help control your symptoms. But you have to tell your doctor how you're feeling and what symptoms you're having. Some people don’t like to disappoint their doctors by telling them they're not feeling well. Others just don't want to complain. This does no one any good. Your doctor wants to know how you really feel. Talking about the symptoms you're having lets your doctor give treatments that can relieve the symptoms. Getting treatment that works can help you feel better and let you focus on the things that are important to you.

For more information on palliative care, see Palliative or Supportive Care.

To learn more about side effects and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: March 9, 2018

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