Education Resources

Treatment Options for Oral Cavity Cancer

There are different types of treatment for patients with lip and oral cavity cancer. The treatment used will depend on your cancer's location and stage, as well as your overall health and personal preferences. You may have just one type of treatment, or you may undergo a combination of cancer treatments.

Treatments commonly used for oral cavity cancer may include:

Your head and neck cancer doctor will work with you to recommend the best treatment path for your specific diagnosis. Recommended treatments may also change based on where exactly the cancer is located to give you the best chance of keeping the ability to talk, eat, and breathe as normally as possible.


Smoking Cessation for Oral Cancer Patients Undergoing Treatment

It is strongly recommended that patients who have been diagnosed with oral cancer should quit smoking before receiving treatment. Smoking can interfere with the effectiveness of the treatment and can also increase the risk of complications during and after treatment. It can also interfere with the body's ability to heal and recover from cancer treatment.

Smoking is a major risk factor for oral cancer, and continuing to smoke after treatment can increase the risk of recurrence or the development of new cancers.

Quitting smoking is an important step in improving the chances of successful treatment and reducing the risk of complications and recurrence. Your cancer care team at Affiliated Oncologists can provide resources and support to help you quit smoking.


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Surgery for Oral Cavity Cancer

Surgery is a common treatment for all stages of lip and oral cavity cancer. Surgery may include the following:

  • Wide local excision: Removal of the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it. If cancer has spread into bone, surgery may include removal of the involved bone tissue.
  • Neck dissection: Removal of lymph nodes and other tissues in the neck. This is done when cancer may have spread from the lip and oral cavity.
  • Plastic surgery: An operation that restores or improves the appearance of parts of the body. Dental implants, a skin graft, or other plastic surgery may be needed to repair parts of the mouth, throat, or neck after the removal of large tumors.

Surgery Options for Lip Cancer

For early-stage and small lip cancers, surgery is preferred, although radiation therapy alone may also be used for initial treatment. Often, larger lip cancers require surgery, and reconstructive surgery may also be needed to help correct the defect in the lip.

The surgeon might also remove any abnormal lymph nodes found during imaging tests so they can check for the spread of cancer. This is common for lip cancers that are likely to spread to lymph nodes in the neck.

Surgery Options for Oral Cavity Cancer

Surgery is the common treatment for cancers in the floor of the mouth, front of the tongue, inside of the cheek, gums, and hard palate. Lymph nodes in the neck might also be removed to check them for cancer spread. If surgery hasn't completely removed the cancer or if there is a high chance of it returning, radiation or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation might be added.

Some patients might be recommended radiation therapy instead of surgery. Typically, this is recommended for patients who cannot undergo surgery because of other medical conditions.

Radiation Therapy for Oral Cavity Cancer

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. It’s most effective for oral cancer patients when they have already stopped smoking. Be sure to see your dentist before radiation therapy to be sure any other dental issues are taken care of first.

There are two types of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer.
  • Internal radiation therapy, more commonly called brachytherapy, uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. Typically, brachytherapy is not used to treat oral cavity cancer due to the precision of external radiation therapy. However, there are rare times it may be used in combination with external radiation to treat early lip or mouth cancers.

The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy, Targeted Therapy, and Immunotherapy for Lip and Oral Cancer Treatment


Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Chemotherapy drugs can be given alone, in combination with radiation and other drugs such as targeted therapies or immunotherapies. Because chemo can increase the effectiveness of radiation, the two are often used in combination with one another.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted drug therapy uses medicines to target the proteins on cancer cells that help them grow and spread. In the case of oral cavity cancer, targeted therapy may be used to treat certain types of tumors that have specific genetic mutations or alterations.

One type of targeted therapy drug is a monoclonal antibody that targets the protein EGFR, or epidermal growth factor receptor, which is found on the surface of some cancer cells. By binding to EGFR, the targeted therapy drug can prevent the cancer cells from growing and dividing and can also signal the immune system to attack the cancer cells.

Targeted therapy may be used in combination with other treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, to improve their effectiveness. It may also be used as alone for patients who are unable to receive other treatments or whose cancer has not responded to other treatments.


Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that works by stimulating the body's immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. In the case of oral cavity cancer, immunotherapy may be used to treat certain types of tumors that have specific characteristics that make them susceptible to immune attack.

One type of immunotherapy that has been used to treat oral cavity cancer is checkpoint inhibitors. Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block certain proteins on the surface of immune cells called T-cells, which normally prevent the immune system from attacking healthy cells. By blocking these proteins, checkpoint inhibitors can help T-cells recognize and attack cancer cells.

Overall, immunotherapy has shown promise as a treatment option for oral cavity cancer, particularly in patients whose cancer has not responded to other treatments or for cancer that has returned or spread to other parts of the body. Not all patients may be eligible for immunotherapy, and the decision will depend on your individual situation and the characteristics of the cancer.


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Oral Cancer Treatment in the South Chicago Suburbs

If you have received a cancer diagnosis and are seeking cancer treatment in the South Chicago suburbs, our oncologists offer the latest treatments for oral cavity cancer and second opinions on treatment and diagnosis.

At Affiliated Oncologists, we will help determine the best treatment plan by working alongside a surgeon and radiation oncologist. We offer outcome-based treatment, and convenient and personalized care, at cancer centers in Chicago Ridge, Mokena, Joliet, Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, and Hazel Crest.