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Oral Cancer (cont.)

Methods of treatment

Oral cancer treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Some patients have a combination of treatments.

At any stage of disease, people with oral cancer may have treatment to control pain and other symptoms, to relieve the side effects of therapy, and to ease emotional and practical problems. This kind of treatment is called supportive care, symptom management, or palliative care. Information about supportive care is available on NCI's Web site at http://cancer.gov and from NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.

You may want to talk to the doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. The section on "The Promise of Cancer Research" has more information about clinical trials.

Surgery

Surgery to remove the tumor in the mouth or throat is a common treatment for oral cancer. Sometimes the surgeon also removes lymph nodes in the neck. Other tissues in the mouth and neck may be removed as well. Patients may have surgery alone or in combination with radiation therapy.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having surgery:

  • What kind of operation do you recommend for me?
  • Do I need any lymph nodes removed? Why?
  • How will I feel after the operation? How long will I be in the hospital?
  • What are the risks of surgery?
  • Will I have trouble speaking, swallowing, or eating?
  • Where will the scars be? What will they look like?
  • Will I have any long-term effects?
  • Will I look different?
  • Will I need reconstructive or plastic surgery? When can that be done?
  • Will I lose my teeth? Can they be replaced? How soon?
  • Will I need to see a specialist for help with my speech?
  • When can I get back to my normal activities?
  • How often will I need checkups?
  • Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a type of local therapy. It affects cells only in the treated area. Radiation therapy is used alone for small tumors or for patients who cannot have surgery. It may be used before surgery to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor. It also may be used after surgery to destroy cancer cells that may remain in the area.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Doctors use two types of radiation therapy to treat oral cancer:

  • External radiation: The radiation comes from a machine. Patients go to the hospital or clinic once or twice a day, generally 5 days a week for several weeks.
  • Internal radiation (implant radiation): The radiation comes from radioactive material placed in seeds, needles, or thin plastic tubes put directly in the tissue. The patient stays in the hospital. The implants remain in place for several days. Usually they are removed before the patient goes home.

Some people with oral cancer have both kinds of radiation therapy.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having radiation therapy:

  • Which type of radiation therapy do you recommend for me? Why do I need this treatment?
  • When will the treatments begin? When will they end?
  • Should I see my dentist before I start treatment? If I need dental treatment, how much time does my mouth need to heal before radiation therapy starts?
  • What are the risks and side effects of this treatment? What can I do about them?
  • How will I feel during therapy?
  • What can I do to take care of myself during therapy?
  • How will my mouth and face look afterward?
  • Are there any long-term effects?
  • Can I continue my normal activities?
  • Will I need a special diet? For how long?
  • How often will I need checkups?
  • Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. It is called systemic therapy because it enters the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells throughout the body. A new targeted therapy called cetuximab, which blocks a growth factor upon which cancer cells may depend, is being used today, either alone or in combination with radiation and older chemotherapy drugs.

Chemotherapy is usually given by injection. It may be given in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Rarely, a hospital stay may be needed.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having chemotherapy:

  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • Which drug or drugs will I have?
  • How do the drugs work?
  • Should I see my dentist before I start chemotherapy? If I need dental treatment, how much time does my mouth need to heal before the chemotherapy begins?
  • What are the expected benefits of the treatment?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of treatment? What can I do about them?
  • When will treatment start? When will it end?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital? How long?
  • How will treatment affect my normal activities?
  • Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/28/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Oral Cancer - Symptoms Question: What are the symptoms of your oral cancer?
Oral Cancer - Diagnosis Question: How was your oral cancer diagnosed?
Oral Cancer - Side Effects Question: Oral cancer treatment can make chewing and talking difficult. What side effects have been challenging for you?
Oral Cancer - Treatment Question: What types of treatment or surgery have you had to treat your oral cancer?
Source: MedicineNet.com
http://www.medicinenet.com/oral_cancer/article.htm

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