Oral cancer

Oral cancer overview

From accurate staging to the newest treatments, as a patient at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), 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.

Staging Performing exams and tests to learn the extent of the cancer within the body, especially whether the disease has spread from where it first formed to other parts of the body. Performing exams and tests to learn the extent of the cancer within the body, especially whether the disease has spread from where it first formed to other parts of the body. It is important to know the stage of the disease in order to plan the best treatment. Tonsil One of two small masses of lymphoid tissue on either side of the throat.

Newly diagnosed

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 Seattle Cancer Care Alliance often have better outcomes than those who started treatment elsewhere. Not only can you expect the best standard of care available, patients at SCCA have access to advanced therapies and treatments being explored in the several ongoing clinical trials for oral cancer conducted at SCCA's parent organizations, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and UW Medicine.

The SCCA 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.

Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Pathologist A physician who has special training in identifying diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. Standard care A treatment or other intervention currently being used and considered to be of proven effectiveness based on past studies.

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.

Where will I be seen?

SCCA 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 SCCA recommends neutron therapy for you, the unique Clinical Neutron Therapy System (CNTS) is available at University of Washington Medical Center, one of our parent organizations.

Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body.
Your first visit

You will have a personal care team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance 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 SCCA parent 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 SCCA.

On your first visit to SCCA, 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.

Biopsy The removal of a sample of tissue or fluid that is examined to see whether cancer is present. This may be done with a large needle or through surgical removal of tissue or fluids. Hematologist A physician who specializes in diseases of the blood and blood-forming tissues. Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Treatment plan A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A treatment plan may also include information about how much the treatment is likely to cost and about regular follow-up care after treatment ends.
Follow-up

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.

Facts

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.

Treatment

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.

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy.

Providers

At SCCA, 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.

Clinical trials

SCCA was formed, in part, to bring promising new treatments to patients faster. For the cancer patient, this means more treatment options at SCCA than might be found elsewhere, including participation in one of the many clinical research studies conducted at SCCA and its parent organizations, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and UW Medicine.