Head and Neck/Oral Cancers: Treatments

Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are all effective ways of treating head and neck cancer and are often used in combination.

Each patient receives a state-of-the-art highly individualized treatment plan considering the type of cancer, its size, stage, and location, as well as the patient’s overall health. The management is specifically tailored to the cancer stage at the time of diagnosis (early or advanced stage) and the primary site of the tumor.

Patients with early stage cancer (stage I and II) are generally managed with either surgery or radiation therapy. Patients with advanced stage head and neck cancers (stage III, IVA, and IVB) are typically managed with a combined treatment approach with organ preservation as an important objective of treatment. Such patients should receive care from a multidisciplinary team with specific expertise in the treatment of head and neck cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may all need to be utilized in the management of such a disease. Late stage head and neck cancer (stage IVC) patients are treated with standard chemotherapeutic options and also with experimental therapies in order to provide disease and symptom control and prolong life.

Surgery Our surgeons take a minimally invasive approach to head and neck cancer surgery whenever possible. They often remove tumors endoscopically, which allows them access to the tumor through the mouth or the nose. This approach eliminates incisions in the skin, speeding patients' recovery, and reducing the length of their hospital stays. When patients require more extensive surgery, our surgical oncologists work closely with reconstructive surgeons to preserve form and function in patients with head and neck cancers. More information on head and neck surgical oncology can be found here.

Radiation Therapy
With advanced radiation therapy techniques doctors can better target tumors while reducing the radiation to nearby healthy tissues. Here at HICCC our radiation oncology experts have the ability to provide “state of the art” treatments for head and neck/oral cancers.

Your radiation oncologist will design the optimal treatment plan with you to ensure you achieve the best possible outcome. Treatment delivery can be daily, weekly, every other day, and or single fraction.

If radiation treatment is recommended, a radiation oncologist will work with our radiation oncology team to create a course of treatment. At Columbia University Irving Medical Center treatment modalities available and most commonly used for this cancer are External Beam Radiation Therapy, 3D Conformal Radiotherapy, Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT), Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT) and Brachytherapy.

Chemotherapy frequently in combination with radiation therapy is being given more often in the treatment of head, neck and oral cancers. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy can be given prior to radiation or surgery and concurrent chemotherapy is when chemotherapy is administered during radiation therapy.

Our oncologists will determine, through tests such a tumor molecular profiling, which drug or combination of drugs will best fight your disease, with the lowest possible toxicity and side-effects.