Many head and neck cancers are curable. Today, people facing head and neck cancers have more options for treatment than ever before. Your Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) doctors will recommend treatment based on many factors, including:
- The location, size, type, and stage of your cancer
- Your age and overall health
- Whether the cancer is newly diagnosed or has recurred
Full Range of Head and Neck Cancer Treatments
The primary methods of treating head and neck cancers are surgery to remove the cancer (along with reconstructive surgery, if needed) and radiation therapy, including proton therapy, to kill cancer cells. These may be used alone or in combination. Chemotherapy is often used along with surgery and radiation therapy. More recently, targeted therapies, such as agents that specifically target growth receptors on tumor cells, have shown promise. These include cetuximab (Erbitux). Many people are cured with one or more of these treatments, all of which are offered through SCCA.
Head and neck cancers can be emotionally challenging and affect your appearance and function, such as speech and swallowing. Our goal is to offer multidisciplinary care that takes all of these considerations into account. Supportive care and management of side effects, pain, and other symptoms—with an emphasis on quality of life—are as important to our doctors as they are to you, and these are part of every patient’s care.
Newest Treatment Techniques
SCCA patients benefit from the latest treatments for head and neck cancers. The newest surgical technique is transoral robot-assisted surgery (TORS), also called transoral robotic surgery. TORS is used to treat tumors at the back of the tongue and throat (upper aerodigestive tract). It is much less invasive than conventional surgery. University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) is the only center in the region to offer this specialized surgery using the da Vinci Surgical System, or da Vinci robot. Patients may return home after only a day or two in the hospital without experiencing the long-term effects of more invasive techniques.
SCCA is the only facility in the United States to offer neutron therapy, a type of radiation therapy shown to be very effective against salivary gland tumors. If your team at SCCA recommends neutron therapy for you, the unique Clinical Neutron Therapy System is available to you at UWMC.
Treatment in Clinical Studies
Depending on your situation, your doctor may suggest other treatments, including options you can access by taking part in one of the many clinical studies for head and neck cancers being conducted through SCCA and its founding organizations, Fred Hutch and UW Medicine. SCCA doctors are actively investigating new approaches to squamous cell carcinomas, including those that affect the head and neck.
Supportive care and management of pain and other symptoms, with an emphasis on quality of life, are as important to our doctors as they are to you, and these are part of every patient’s care. Depending on your exact needs, your supportive care team may include a number of specialists, such as a dentist, dietitian, otolaryngologist, lymphedema therapist, physical therapist, prosthodontist, social worker, and speech and swallowing pathologist. You may also see a nurse or advanced practice provider from our Supportive and Palliative Care Service. The members of your supportive care team work alongside your oncology team to provide in-depth symptom management and support.
When you’ve completed your cancer treatment, your first follow-up appointment should be in about eight weeks. Follow-up usually consists of regularly scheduled visits with your multidisciplinary team—your surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist—for up to five years. The Survivorship Clinic sees patients who are five years out of treatment and addresses long-term survivorship issues.