MD Anderson takes special care to customize your throat cancer treatment so that we maximize the chances of cure while minimizing the impact on your body and lifestyle. Keep in mind that all cancer treatments have side effects, both short term and long term, but it is the MD Anderson physicians’ goal to factor in the effect of each treatment on a person’s quality of life as part of the treatment decision-making for any throat cancer.
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 throat cancers. Other members of your team may include:
- Medical oncologists: Doctors who give drug treatments including chemotherapy and immunotherapy
- Radiation oncologists: Doctors who give radiation treatments
- Head and Neck Surgeons: Doctors who remove tumors with specialized operations
- Plastic and Reconstructive surgeons: Doctors who replace tissues removed during cancer surgery to restore function and appearance
- Speech pathologists and swallowing experts
- Physical, occupational and speech therapists
Depending on the type of throat cancer and how far it has spread, you may be treated with one or a combination of therapies.
Surgery for throat cancer
Our skilled surgeons are experts at performing surgery for patients with throat cancer. Revolutionary new technologies in robotics and laser surgery have ushered in a new era of throat cancer surgery. Our surgeons have the most advanced equipment and technology to perform advanced surgeries such as the following:
Minimally invasive or endoscopic surgery: This technique allows surgeons to remove whole tumors through the mouth, without external incisions and limited change in speech and swallowing function.
Transoral Laser Microsurgery (TLM): This procedure lets surgeons reach tumors in tight locations that were previously not accessible. Thanks to a flexible, hollow-core fiber that transmits CO2 laser energy, surgeons are able to remove these tumors with minimal damage to surrounding tissue.
Transoral Robotic Surgery (TORS): Robotic-assisted surgery offers the advantages of computer technology, specialized surgical instruments and advanced three-dimensional imaging. This device has made it possible to have a “two-handed cancer surgery” with 3D vision in small spaces without making large incisions to reach the tumor. At MD Anderson, the da Vinci® Surgical System is the latest addition to our surgical tools for head and neck cancer, particularly in the oropharynx.
Supracricoid Partial Laryngectomy: This is an alternative to complete voice box removal for some tumors of the supraglottis and vocal cords. In this surgery, the upper portions of the voice box are removed while preserving the structures that are necessary for swallowing and speaking.
Throat cancer chemotherapy
Chemotherapy may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery or kill lingering cancer cells after surgery and/or radiation treatment. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used as a primary treatment for patients with larger tumors or those who cannot tolerate surgery.
Throat cancer immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is a very promising new form of drug treatment for cancers that stimulates the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
A patient’s overall health, whether this is a new cancer or a recurrent cancer, what treatments have been tried before, as well as the type of cancer determines which immunotherapies are available to patients. Sometimes two different types of immunotherapies are combined during treatment. Other times, a single immunotherapy is used with another type of therapy, such as chemotherapy. These combination approaches are used to improve treatment.
Throat cancer targeted therapy
Targeted therapy is another newer form of cancer treatment with drugs that stops or slows the growth or spread of cancer by targeting specific aspects of a tumor’s biology . Targeted therapies can be given in pill form or through an infusion and are often given along with another treatment like chemotherapy or radiation.
MD Anderson offers the most advanced drug combination regimens, which optimize the benefit of reducing the cancer while trying to have the least impact on the body.
Throat cancer radiation therapy
New radiation therapy techniques, such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and proton therapy, and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target throat cancer tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
Radiation treatments include:
- Brachytherapy: Tiny radioactive seeds are placed in the body close to the tumor
- 3D-conformal radiation therapy: Multiple radiation beams are given in the exact shape of the tumor
- Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT): Treatment is tailored to the specific shape of the tumor
Throat cancer proton therapy
Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly to the tumor site, with limited, if any, damage to nearby healthy tissue. This pencil-beam technology pioneered by the cancer experts at MD Anderson’s Proton Therapy Center – and available at only a few other centers worldwide – is an important tool for fighting certain head and neck cancers. For some patients, this therapy results in better cancer control with fewer side effects.
The Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson offers the most advanced form of radiation treatment available in the Southwest. This means that this cutting-edge therapy is backed by all the expertise and compassionate care for which MD Anderson is known.
Speech: The Section of Speech Pathology and Audiology at MD Anderson offers patients the most advanced techniques for restoring speech after larynx (voice box) cancer and its treatment. Experts provide specialized therapies to help patients regain their voice after partial or total removal of the larynx.
Swallowing: Experts in the Swallowing Outcomes Research Laboratory are dedicated to evaluating and treating patients who have difficulty after treatment. MD Anderson’s swallowing service is one of the leaders in the country and serves as a model for the management of patients treated for throat cancers.
Survivorship: Throat cancer patients are strongly urged not to smoke or drink alcohol during and after treatment. Drinking and smoking can make treatments less successful and worsen side effects during treatment, and they can also greatly increase the chance of the cancer returning. MD Anderson has a survivorship clinic dedicated to the needs of head and neck cancer patients.
Regular follow-up and screening is vital due to the high risk of throat cancer returning to the throat or other areas in the head and neck region. Patients need to see their doctors every three to six months for the first two years after treatment, since the majority of cancers that recur, or come back, do so within that time period.
Our Throat Cancer Clinical Trials
Because of its status as one of the world’s premier cancer centers, MD Anderson develops and participates in clinical trials of new therapies for throat cancer. Sometimes they are your best option for treatment. Other times, they help researchers learn how to treat cancer and improve the future of cancer treatment. Learn more about clinical trials.
Learn more about throat cancer:
Treatment at MD Anderson
Throat 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.
Becoming Our Patient
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MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.