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Treatments

At Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, each cancer has a wide range of treatments that can be used alone or in combination to give the best outcome for your specific cancer, including standard therapies and novel therapies only available in clinical trials. That’s why careful diagnosis is so important.

Your exact diagnosis, side effects expected, how the treatment might affect your physical appearance or your speech and ability to eat, and your personal preferences help decide your treatment plan.

  • Surgery 

    Your surgeon will remove the tumor from the head and neck region and remove lymph nodes if cancer is present. Smaller tumors have a lower chance of negatively impacting your ability to speak, swallow and live life to the fullest.  

    Surgery is the primary choice for cancer of the lips, the floor of the mouth, the tongue, inside the cheek, the gums, and of the roof of the mouth. For small tumors, radiation may work without surgery. Lymph nodes in the neck may be removed (lymph node dissection) to check for cancer spread.

    • Reconstructive Surgery: Sometimes, head and neck surgeries can cause substantial cosmetic changes. Your Sylvester head and neck experts will plan before any treatment starts for both the cancer removal and any bone or tissue reconstruction.
      • Often these reconstructive procedures can utilize small pieces of tissue, skin or bone from your own body for a more natural look and feel — such as from your lower leg, shoulder blade, chest, forearm and other areas.
      • Another option is to develop a prosthesis (an artificial replacement). Sylvester's head and neck cancer team works with our prosthodontist, a dentist who specializes in making replacements for teeth and other facial structures.

    Radiation Therapy 

    Radiation is a primary treatment for small head and neck cancers of the oral cavity. Cancer cells remaining are removed by a surgeon.

    Sylvester has one of the largest, most experienced and most sophisticated head/neck cancer radiation teams in the nation. Radiation therapy uses highly targeted radiation beams to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors. This is sometimes the only type of treatment needed. More often it is used together with chemotherapy or targeted therapy. Our techniques include:

    • Oral health evaluation: A thorough oral evaluation by a knowledgeable dentist before radiation treatment spots any potential infection, fractured teeth or restorations, or periodontal disease. These issues could contribute to oral complications when cancer therapy begins.  

    • IMRT (Intensity modulated radiation therapy): Sylvester offers national-leading experience in the use of IMRT for head and neck cancers. IMRT is an external beam radiation therapy. Radiation specialists shape the radiation doses to the exact 3D shape of your tumor. This precise control helps minimize or decrease radiation to surrounding healthy tissue. 

    • Radiosensitizing treatment: In some cases, such as in cancers of the larynx (voice box) and oropharynx (middle of the throat), we may use chemotherapy and radiation therapy together to kill all the cancer cells. This combination also can help reduce the need for surgery and preserve your voice box and throat structures. 

  • Chemotherapy (Systemic Medical Therapy)

    The high level of experience of Sylvester’s medical oncology team allows our physicians to choose and deliver the most advanced chemotherapy approaches. You might receive chemotherapy drugs before or after surgery. They can also be used with radiation therapy to help some patients avoid surgery. Chemotherapy drugs for head and neck patients do not usually cause you to lose your hair. 

    • Intravenous (infusion) chemotherapy is available at the Comprehensive Treatment Unit (CTU) of Sylvester's Miami location, a 12,000-square-foot unit that includes 33 recliners and 11 private rooms. If you prefer, you may have your infusion treatments at the Deerfield Beach, Plantation, Hollywood, Coral Springs, Coral Gables, and Kendall locations.

  • Targeted Therapy 

    This treatment uses medicines that target specific parts of cancer cells. For example, a protein called EGFR may accelerate the growth of head and neck cancer cells. The most commonly used medicine that targets these cells is called cetuximab. It blocks EGFR, so the cancer cell growth often slows or stops.