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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. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are the three standard treatments used for oral cavity cancer.

Surgery for Oral Cancer

Surgery is a common treatment for all stages of 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 removal of large tumors.

Radiation Therapy for Oral 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

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.