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Cancer & Blood Disorders

Head & Neck Cancer Treatment Options

How are head and neck cancers treated?

There are several ways to treat head and neck cancers, but the primary ways are local or systemic.

Local treatment is when only the cancer is treated. This is done with surgery and radiation. Systemic treatment, on the other hand, reaches cancer cells throughout the entire body. This is accomplished with chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy. In some cases, patients may need a combination of both local and systemic treatments.

The treatment plan for an individual patient depends on a number of factors, including the type of head or neck cancer one is diagnosed with, the exact location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the person’s age and general health.

People who are diagnosed with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer may be treated differently than people with oropharyngeal cancers that are HPV-negative. Recent research has shown that patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal tumors have a better prognosis and may do just as well on less intense treatment. An ongoing clinical trial is investigating this question.

Treatment options should be considered carefully. Talking with your oncologist can help determine what type of cancer treatment is best for you.

Questions to ask the oncologist:

  • What treatment do you think is best for me?
  • What is the goal of treatment? Could it cure the cancer?
  • If I need surgery, what will it be like and who will do it?
  • Will I need additional treatments?
  • What side effects might I have?
  • How soon do I need to start treatment?
  • Can I do anything to help the treatment work better?

Ask your Optim Oncology cancer care team or visit the National Cancer Institute where this information and more can be found about head and neck cancer including side effects of treatments, support information and more.