What are the treatments for oral cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with oral cancer there are several treatment options available. Usually people with early oral cancer may be treated with surgery or radiation therapy. Patients who have been diagnosed with advanced oral cancer may have a combination of those treatments. According to the National Cancer Institute, the choice of treatment depends mainly on your general health, where in your mouth or throat the cancer began, the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread.

If you have been diagnosed with oral cancer, your doctor may suggest several different treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a treatment called targeted therapy. Your doctor may suggest one of these options or may recommend that you do two options together.

For example, if your cancer is considered to be in its early stages and the tumor is small enough, you may undergo surgery to remove the tumor. In other cases of early oral cancer, radiation (using radioactive, high-energy rays to destroy the tumor cells) may be the better choice.

If the oral cancer is in its later stages, the doctor (or team of specialists) may suggest a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, in which powerful drugs are injected into your bloodstream. The drugs kill the cancer cells but can also damage normal cells in your body.

Finally, you may end up having targeted therapy as part of your treatment. Targeted therapy means that you are taking a drug that only harms the cancer cells. Targeted therapy is usually used in addition to chemotherapy or radiation, not instead of these options.

Your doctor and specialists will explain to you which of the options may work for you, and together you will come up with a treatment plan.
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
People with early oral cancer may be treated with surgery or radiation therapy. People with advanced oral cancer may have a combination of treatments. For example, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are often given at the same time. Another treatment option is targeted therapy.

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. You may have surgery alone or in combination with radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It's an option for small tumors or for people who can't have surgery. Or, it may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor. It also may be used after surgery to destroy cancer cells that may remain in the area.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs that treat oral cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous). The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout your body.

Targeted therapy
Some people with oral cancer receive a type of drug known as targeted therapy. It may be given along with radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Cetuximab (Erbitux) was the first targeted therapy approved for oral cancer. Cetuximab binds to oral cancer cells and interferes with cancer cell growth and the spread of cancer. You may receive cetuximab through a vein once a week for several weeks at the doctor's office, hospital, or clinic.

The choice of treatment depends mainly on your general health, where in your mouth or throat the cancer began, the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread.

Many doctors encourage people with oral cancer to consider taking part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies testing new treatments. They are an important option for people with all stages of oral cancer.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

The type of treatment you will receive for your oral cancer will be dependent on how advanced it is and where it is located in your mouth. Your doctor should discuss the different treatment options with you, as they all have different side effects. In the early stages, oral cancer is generally treated with either surgery to remove the cancer or radiation, which kills the cancerous growth. In the more advanced stages, radiation may be paired with chemotherapy, a regimen of cancer drugs given through your veins. Additionally, targeted drug therapy, which is a type of drug that aims to stop processes within cells that are specific to cancer cells, can be an option for more advanced oral cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.