Oral cancer overview
From accurate staging to the newest treatments, as a patient at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, you will receive state-of-the-art treatments from some of the world’s leading doctors. Your team of doctors focus on treating patients with various oral cancers, including mouth cancer, tongue cancer, tonsil cancer, and throat cancer.
If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with oral cancer, you're probably thinking hard about what to do next. Educating yourself about cancer and understanding the various treatment options that are explained on these pages is a good start. However, your most important decision is selecting where to get your cancer treated.
Studies have shown that the first treatment you receive for cancer is by far the most important. That's why your first choice in a treatment center needs to be the right one. Patients who begin their treatment at Fred Hutch often have better outcomes than those who started treatment elsewhere. Not only can you expect the best standard of care available, patients at Fred Hutch have access to advanced therapies and treatments being explored in the several ongoing clinical trials for oral cancer conducted at Fred Hutch and UW Medicine.
The Fred Hutch Head and Neck physician expert team includes specialists from otolaryngology – head and neck surgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, maxillofacial prosthodontics, oral medicine, radiation oncology, medical oncology, neuroradiology, speech pathology, and other health services.
The staff includes medical assistants, patient care coordinators, speech and language pathologists, and audiologists, as well as experts in neurology, rehabilitation medicine, respiratory, physical therapy, and others.
What to expect
All tumors and all cases of head and neck cancer are not the same. The treatment that a friend or relative received may not be the best treatment for you.
Take some time to make a decision about treatment. In most cases, you have time to consider your options and get a second opinion to help you decide what kind of treatment is right for you.
A diagnosis of cancer or other serious illness can feel overwhelming. We have an experienced, compassionate team of specialists ready to help you adjust to what’s happening. We have dedicated information for patient’s Practical & Emotional Support
Ask someone you trust to go with you to doctors' appointments and tests. This person can provide emotional support. A friend can also help by keeping track of the questions you want to ask, taking notes and doing research on your disease and treatment options.
Fred Hutch is one of only three facilities 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 Fred Hutch recommends neutron therapy for you, the unique Clinical Neutron Therapy System (CNTS) is available at University of Washington Medical Center, one of our partner organizations.
You will have a personal care team at Fred Hutch that includes a hematologist/oncologist, a nurse case manager, and a radiation oncologist, if needed. We will also involve a head and neck surgeon (otolaryngologist) from UW Medicine, an Fred Hutch partner organization, if you may need surgery.
Before your first visit, the team will have reviewed your pathology slides (tissue samples from any biopsies) and any scans or tests you have already had. If you do not live in or near Seattle, we may ask your referring doctor to arrange for additional tests or scans so that these results are available before your appointment at Fred Hutch.
On your first visit to Fred Hutch, you will first meet with your doctor, who will ask you questions about your medical history and your current problem. This will be followed by a physical exam. Then, you will sit down for a conference with your doctor and other members of your team to discuss a treatment plan. This visit usually lasts two hours. We recommend that you bring a friend or family member with you to your appointment for emotional support and to help you keep track of the information your team will be giving you.
Continuing to have follow-up appointments with your doctor is very important to monitor your health during and after treatment to prevent possible complications of your disease and treatment. Depending on your condition, you may need follow-up visits as frequently as every week or only every six months. Your doctor can tell you how often you need to visit and why this schedule is important for you.
Oral cancer is a cancer that begins in the mouth or the throat at the back of the mouth, called the oropharynx. (Cancer that begins in the back of the mouth is also called oropharyngeal cancer.) About 90 percent of the cancers in the oral cavity and the oropharynx are squamous cell carcinomas.
While many cancers of the head and neck are curable, treatment depends on where the cancer is, the severity of the disease, and the patient's age and overall health. The primary method of treatment is surgery (removing the cancer cells). Radiation (using high-dose X-rays to kill cancer cells) and chemotherapy (using high-dose anti-cancer medication) are also used.
At Fred Hutch, you receive care from a team of providers with extensive experience in your disease. Your team includes physicians, a patient care coordinator, a registered nurse, an advanced practice provider and others, based on your needs. You also have access to experts like nutritionists, social workers, acupuncturists, psychiatrists and more who specialize in supporting people with cancer or blood disorders.
Fred Hutch was formed, in part, to bring promising new treatments to patients faster. For the cancer patient, this means more treatment options at Fred Hutch than might be found elsewhere, including participation in one of the many clinical research studies conducted at Fred Hutch and UW Medicine.