Exploring head and neck cancer treatment options

Written by: Top Doctors®
Edited by: Karolyn Judge

Head and neck cancer refers to a group of cancers that develop in the tissues and organs of the head and neck region, including the mouth, throat, nose, sinuses, voice box (larynx), and salivary glands.


In this article, leading consultant ENT, head and neck, thyroid, and parathyroid surgeon Mr Billy Wong discusses various aspects of head and neck cancer treatment to help patients and their families better understand their options and what to expect.

Young woman who needs neck cancer treatment

What are the treatment options for head and neck cancer?


Surgery is often the primary treatment for head and neck cancer, especially in early-stage disease.


The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tissue while preserving nearby structures and functions, such as speech, swallowing, and breathing.


Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours.


It may be used as the main treatment for smaller tumours or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy for larger or more advanced tumours.



Chemotherapy involves the use of powerful drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.


It’s often used in combination with surgery and/or radiation therapy to treat advanced or metastatic head and neck cancer.


Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy targets specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer growth and progression.


It may be used in certain cases of head and neck cancer, particularly those with specific genetic mutations or biomarkers.



How is the treatment plan determined?

Multidisciplinary approach

The treatment of head and neck cancer often requires a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including:

  • surgeons;
  • medical oncologists;
  • radiation oncologists;
  • pathologists;
  • radiologists, and;
  • speech and language therapists.

Together, the team evaluates the patient's condition, tumour characteristics and overall health to develop a personalised treatment plan.


Staging and imaging

Staging tests, such as imaging studies (e.g., CT scan, MRI, PET-CT scan), help determine the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant organs.

This information is crucial for selecting the most appropriate treatment approach.



What can patients expect during treatment?

Preoperative evaluation

Before surgery, patients undergo a thorough preoperative evaluation to assess their overall health and fitness for surgery.

This may include:

  • blood tests;
  • imaging studies, and;
  • consultations with various specialists.



The type of surgery performed depends on the location, size and stage of the cancer.

Common surgical procedures for head and neck cancer include tumour resection, neck dissection and reconstructive surgery.


Recovery and rehabilitation

Recovery from head and neck cancer surgery may involve a period of hospitalisation and postoperative care.

Patients may require rehabilitation services, such as speech therapy and swallowing therapy, to regain function and improve quality of life.


Adjuvant therapy

After surgery, some patients may require additional treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

These therapies are tailored to each patient's individual needs and treatment goals.




If you or someone else requires a consultation regarding treatment options for head and neck cancer, arrange a consultation with Mr Wong via his Top Doctors profile.


By Topdoctors
Otolaryngology / ENT

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