Many cancers of the head and neck can be cured, especially if they are found early. Although eliminating the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important. When planning treatment, doctors consider how treatment might affect a person’s quality of life, such as how a person feels, looks, talks, eats, and breathes.
Overall, the main treatment options are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Surgery or radiation therapy by themselves or a combination of these treatments may be part of the treatment plan. More treatment details can be found each specific cancer type section. See the Introduction for a complete list of different types of head and neck cancer.
Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of head and neck cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Talk with your doctor about the goals of each treatment and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. These types of talks are called “shared decision making.” Shared decision making is when you and your doctors work together to choose treatments that fit the goals of your care. Shared decision making is particularly important for head and neck cancer because there are different treatment options.
Oral cavity. A white or red patch on the gums, the tongue, or the lining of the mouth; a growth or swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable; and unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.
Throat (pharynx). Pain when swallowing; pain in the neck or the throat that does not go away; pain or ringing in the ears; or trouble hearing.
Voice box (larynx). Trouble breathing or speaking, pain when swallowing or ear pain.
Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity. Sinuses that are blocked and do not clear; chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics; bleeding through the nose; frequent headaches, swelling or other trouble with the eyes; pain in the upper teeth; or problems with dentures.
Salivary glands. Swelling under the chin or around the jawbone, numbness or paralysis of the muscles in the face, or pain in the face, the chin, or the neck that does not go away.
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