Treatments of head and neck cancers may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies.
If the tumor is small and hasn’t spread to lymph nodes or elsewhere, treatment is usually either surgery or radiotherapy.
Surgical techniques include:
Laser surgery: an endoscope with a high-intensity laser on the tip is used to destroy the tumor.
Cordectomy: part or all of the vocal cords are removed.
Laryngectomy: part or all of the larynx is removed.
Partial laryngectomy: partial removal of the voice box, leaving the rest of the larynx intact.
Total laryngectomy: the entire voice box is removed.
Pharyngectomy: part or all of the throat is removed.
Lymph node removal: the removal of lymph nodes in the neck to prevent the spread of the cancer.
Tracheotomy/Tracheostomy: the creation of an alternate pathway for breathing by creating a hole in the trachea (windpipe).
Radiofrequency thermal ablation (RFA): a treatment option that applies heat to localized tumors that cannot be removed by surgery.
Radiation: Radiotherapy may be the preferred treatment for cancers in areas of the head and neck that are difficult to reach, or where removing tissue can cause significant changes in speaking or swallowing.
If a head and neck cancer is larger, or has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, more than one type of treatment is usually needed, and may include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapies.
For many head and neck cancers, targeted therapies against a tumor protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) may be used. The most commonly used targeted therapy is Cetuximab (Erbitux). Most squamous cell cancers of the head and neck have proteins (epidermal growth factor receptors called EGFRs) on their surface. Chemical messengers in the body, called growth factors, attach to these receptors and stimulate the cancer to grow. Cetuximab (Erbitux) stops the growth factors from attaching to receptors on the cancer and may stop it from growing. It may also make the cancer more sensitive to the effects of radiation and platinum based chemotherapy.