The American Cancer Society estimates that three to five percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. will be in the head and neck region. Treatment for head and neck cancers depend on the origin, since the tumor site can respond to treatment type in different ways. Head and neck cancers are typically treatment using radiation therapy, surgery, or both. Chemotherapy and/or targeted systemic therapy may also be used in conjunction with the other treatments to improve cure rates.

To learn more about the symptoms and treatments for head and neck cancers, click on the links below.

How Can Head And Neck Cancer Be Treated?

The course of treatment for head and neck cancers depends on several factors, including the type of cancer, the size and stage of the cancer, the location and the patient’s overall health. This means that treatment plans will be highly personalized for each individual. For many head and neck cancers, combining two or three types of treatment may be most effective. Creating a treatment plan for head and neck cancers requires a multidisciplinary approach, often including a surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist. In some cases, radiation treatment can eliminate a tumor without the need for invasive procedures, which helps preserve healthier organs as well.

Radiation Therapy For Head & Neck Cancers

Radiation therapy uses focused beams of radiation on a patient’s affected area, killing off cancer cells by destroying their ability to multiply. While the tissue surrounding the treated area can also be damaged, healthy cells have the ability to self-repair for a faster recovery after radiation treatment.

Radiation treatment is often prescribed for head and neck cancers because of the ability to preserve more healthy organ tissue. Some benefits to the organ-preservation include better swallowing and/or voice function, while maintaining equal cure rates as compared to surgically removing a tumor. In some cases, radiation will be combined with surgery, chemotherapy or both.

Surgical Treatment For Head & Neck Cancers

After your surgeon has performed a full biopsy of the head and neck region with a flexible endoscopic camera, they can assess the degree to which the tumor has spread through the body. If surgery is required, your surgeon can usually remove the tumor completely, along with a rim of normal, healthy tissue. In some cases, depending on where the tumor is located and its stage of development, the surgeon may remove the lymph nodes in the neck, since they are a common path along which tumors can continue to spread. If you have any questions about if your lymph nodes will be removed during the surgical procedure, ask your doctor beforehand.

In some cases, surgery can be combined with radiation. This is determined on a case-by-case basis by your doctors.

Medical Therapy For Head & Neck Cancers

While surgery and radiation focus directly on treating the tumor, medication is often used in tandem to destroy cancer cells, by preventing them from growing and dividing. A thorough evaluation will be conducted by a medical oncologist to determine what medications may be most helpful for your unique case. Two of the main categories of systemic therapy (treatment that is injected into a person's blood system) are:

  • Chemotherapy - This treatment type often utilizes one to three different types of drugs that are designed to destroy cancer cells. The dose and frequency of treatment varies. If being combined with radiation therapy, chemotherapy is often administered during radiation treatment.
  • Targeted Therapy focuses anti-cancer treatment on the molecular level, targeting factors such as the epidermal growth factor (EGFR) to combat the cancer cells. This treatment can be used in conjunction with radiation treatment.

Ask your medical oncologist if medicinal treatment will be helpful for your case.

Back to top ▴

Why Is Dental Care Is Important During Cancer Treatment?

A possible side-effect of cancer treatment is the mouth becoming dry, which can increase the risk of developing cavities and oral infection. Radiation treatment has the potential to cause the jaw bone to heal at a slower rate. It is highly recommended that you ask your doctor if you need to consult a dentist before you begin treatment. All dental work should be done before cancer treatment begins.

Back to top ▴


External beam radiation therapy uses an external radiation device to deliver focused radiation to a treatment area. The process of treatment begins with a mapping session, where the doctor will take detailed scans and create small markings on the body where the treatment will be delivered.

External radiation treatment is typically administered five days a week, spread out through several weeks. This schedule is designed to minimize side effects, and give your healthy cells time to heal between treatment.

For more technical information about external beam radiation therapy, you can ask your doctor about three dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3-D CRT), intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and image guided radiation therapy (IGRT).

Back to top ▴

Internal Radiation Therapy (BRACHYTHERAPY)

Internal radiation therapy inserts radioactive material into the tumor to hyperfocus radiation delivery on the cancer cells. This treatment can be used in conjunction with external beam radiation therapy, depending on a patient’s unique case.

Brachytherapy can vary in dose rate, depending on the case. With brachytherapy utilizing a low-dose-rate of radiation, the radioactive material will typically remain within the tumor for one to three days before being removed. High dose-rate brachytherapy is typically given over multiple session for two or more days.

Back to top ▴

What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Treatment?

Side effects that may occur differ on a case-by-case basis. Ask your doctor what you might expect from your head and neck cancer treatment.

The side effects from the chemotherapy will depend on the type and frequency of treatment. It is possible for side effects often to be controlled with medications or changes in your diet. Tell your doctor or nurse if you experience any side effects, so they can work to help you feel better.

Back to top ▴


At the Northeastern Nevada Radiation Oncology Center, we’re committed to providing professional care for the families that are battling with cancer. With advanced radiation treatment technology, an experienced medical staff, and a state-of-the-art of facility designed for comfort that is close to home, we will help you work toward a healthier future. Contact us today for more information. 

Back to top ▴

Head and Neck Cancer Resources

Head and Neck Cancer Alliance


Oral Cancer Foundation


Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer


Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association


Also see Helpful Links

Back to top ▴


Download a helpful brochure from www.rtanswers.org

*Content provided by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, www.rtanswers.org, and the American Cancer Society.

Back to top ▴

  • Copyright © All Rights Reserved.