Oral Cancer Treatments

The treatment of oral cancer depends on the exact location, the stage of the cancer in its primary location, the presence of cancer spreading to the lymph nodes and the patient’s general medical condition. Treatments may include:

Full extent of the cancer as assessed by clinical evaluation and imaging studies determines the stage of the cancer. The stage of the cancer can be a guide to prognosis (outlook for cure). Early-stage cancers can often be treated by single modality such as surgery or radiation while more advanced stage tumors may require combination of therapies.

Surgery is most commonly the first line of treatment for oral cancer. For early cancer, no further treatment may be necessary but for more advanced cancers, additional therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy may be needed afterwards.

At Northwestern Medicine Head and Neck Program, patients are evaluated in a multidisciplinary fashion with input from head and neck surgery, plastic surgery, maxillofacial surgery, prosthodontists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and speech and swallowing pathologists, as needed, to develop a treatment plan that provides the best possible likelihood of cure along with optimal cosmetic and functional outcomes. 

How curable is oral cancer?

Prognosis for oral cancer depends on many factors including stage (initial extent of cancer) at which the patient presents, general medical health, and several other pathologic factors. Most importantly, access to highly specialized centers focusing on cancer care such as the Northwestern Medicine Head and Neck Program, has been repeatedly shown to improve survival outcomes for patients with cancer.


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