The mouth is an important part of eating, breathing and talking, and MD Anderson takes special care to customize your oral cancer treatment so that we maximize the chances of cure while minimizing the impact on your body and lifestyle.
Your care is provided by a team of health care professionals, led by a doctor, typically a head and neck surgeon, who specializes in treating oral cancers. Other members of your team may include:
- Medical oncologists
- Radiation oncologists
- Plastic and reconstructive surgeons
- Speech pathologists
- Speech, occupational and physical therapists
We specialize in minimally invasive techniques and innovative treatments, including the use of new therapies through clinical trials. If reconstruction is needed, our plastic surgeons are among the most experienced in the country. We take special care to work with each patient to restore optimum physical function.
Our Oral Cancer Treatments
If you are diagnosed with oral cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including the type and stage of the cancer and your general health.
Your treatment for oral cancer will be customized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.
Surgery is the most frequent first treatment for oral cancer. The type of surgery depends on the type, extent and stage of the cancer. Surgical techniques are designed to remove all of the cancer in the mouth, and if needed, lymph nodes confirmed or suspected to have cancer cells.
During oral cancer surgery, surgeons work closely with pathologists who use special techniques to examine the tissues and make sure the cancer is removed completely. If needed, plastic surgeons reconstruct the surgical site and help restore function.
Radiation therapy may be used after surgery, either alone or with chemotherapy for more advanced tumors. In rare cases, radiation therapy is used instead of surgery or as a first step in treatment. The method of radiation treatment used depends on the type and stage of cancer.
External-beam radiation therapy is the most frequently used method to deliver radiation therapy to the mouth. Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and proton therapy are aimed at treating the tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding normal tissue.
Internal radiation or brachytherapy delivers radiation with tiny seeds, needles or tubes that are implanted into the tumor. It is used sometimes for treating small tumors or with surgery in advanced tumors.
Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly into the tumor, sparing nearby healthy tissue and vital organs. For many patients, this results in a higher chance for successful treatment with less impact on the body.
The Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson is one of the world’s largest and most advanced centers. It’s the only proton therapy facility in the country located within a comprehensive cancer center. This means this cutting-edge therapy is backed by all the expertise and compassionate care for which MD Anderson is famous.
MD Anderson offers the most advanced chemotherapy options. Chemotherapy may be used to shrink the cancer before surgery or radiation, or it may be combined with radiation to increase the effectiveness of both treatments. It also may be used to shrink tumors that cannot be surgically removed.
Cancer cells need specific molecules to survive, multiply and spread. These molecules are usually made by the genes that cause cancer, as well as the cells themselves. Targeted therapies, such as epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor inhibitors, are designed to interfere with those molecules or the cancer-causing genes that create them.
Cancer cells need to evade the immune system to survive, multiply and spread. A new class of cancer medicines, immunotherapies, work to unmask the cancer to the immune system. These drugs are not currently a standard treatment option for oral cancer outside of a clinical trial, except for patients with unresectable or metastatic cancer.
After Treatment: Reconstruction and Rehabilitation
Oral cancer and its treatment often cause difficulty with speaking, swallowing and breathing. We work with you, defining your needs and making sure you receive the care you need to increase the likelihood of returning to normal speech and function. Therapy may include speech, occupational and physical therapies and other methods.
As part of treatment, some patients with oral cancer need plastic or reconstructive surgery to help regain the ability to speak or swallow and/or restore their appearance.
Usually, reconstruction is performed at the same time as your cancer surgery. In some cases the surgery site is left to heal on its own. Your doctor will recommend the method that is best for you. In some cases, you may be fitted for a dental prosthesis or implant. A therapist will show you how to use the device. Sometimes, grafts of skin, muscle or bone, which are moved from another part of body to the mouth, are used.
Treatment at MD Anderson
Oral cancer is treated in our Head and Neck Center.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
Find the latest news and information about oral cancer in our
Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news
releases and more.
MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.
Due to our response to COVID-19, all blood donations at MD Anderson
Blood Donor Center locations are being held by appointment only.