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Oral Cancer Treatment

The mouth is an important part of eating, breathing and talking, and MD Anderson takes special care to customize your oral cancer treatment to include the most advanced therapies with the least impact on your body.

Your care is followed closely by a team of health care professionals, led by a doctor who specializes in treating oral cancers. Other members of your team may include:

  • Head and neck surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists
  • Plastic and reconstructive surgeons
  • Dentists
  • Speech pathologists
  • Speech, occupational and physical therapists
  • Dietitians
  • Psychologists

Rehabilitation specialists

We specialize in minimally invasive techniques and innovative treatments, including tumor growth factor inhibitors. 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.

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 treatment for oral cancer. The type of surgery depends on the type and stage of the tumor. Surgical techniques to treat oral cancer and deal with the side effects of treatment include:

  • Removal of the tumor or a larger area to remove the tumor and surrounding healthy tissue
  • Removal of part or all of the jaw
  • Maxillectomy (removal of bone in the roof of the mouth)
  • Removal of lymph nodes and other tissue in the neck
  • Plastic surgery, including skin grafts, tissue flaps or dental implants to restore tissues removed from the mouth or neck
  • Tracheotomy, or placing a hole in the windpipe, to assist in breathing for patients with large tumors or after surgical removal of the tumor
  • Dental surgery to remove teeth or assist with reconstruction

Radiation Therapy

In cancer of the mouth, radiation therapy may be used alone to treat small or early-stage tumors. More often, radiation therapy is used after surgery, either alone or with chemotherapy for more advanced tumors. 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

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.

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.


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.

Tumor Growth Factor Inhibitors

Tumor growth factors are hormone-like substances that occur naturally in the body and cause cell growth. An epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor on the surface of some oral cancer cells can bind to certain substances that stimulate tumor growth. New drugs are being tested that target EGF receptors and may stop cancer cells from growing.

After Treatment: Reconstruction and Rehabilitation

Oral cancer and its treatment often cause difficulty in speaking, swallowing and breathing. We work with you, defining your needs and making sure you receive the care you need. This may include speech, occupational and physical therapies and other methods.

After treatment, some patients with oral cancer need plastic or reconstructive surgery to help restore their appearance or regain the ability to speak or swallow. MD Anderson’s plastic and reconstructive surgeons are among the most skilled and experienced in the world.

Sometimes the surgeon can perform reconstructive surgery at the same time as your cancer surgery; in other cases it is best to wait. Your doctor will recommend the method that is best for you. If reconstructive surgery isn’t possible, 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.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

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.


Talk to someone who shares your cancer diagnosis and be matched with a survivor.

Prevention and Screening

Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.