After a patient has been diagnosed with mouth cancer and the cancer is staged, the doctor will talk about treatment options.
According to the cancer type and stage, one may undergo one type of treatment or a series of cancer treatments. Also, based on the stage and location of the tumor, one may have different doctors in the treatment team. These doctors include:
- An otolaryngologist (also known as an ENT doctor — ear, nose and throat doctor): This is a surgeon who operates on certain diseases affecting the head and neck area.
- An oral and maxillofacial surgeon: This is a dental surgeon who treats diseases affecting the mouth, teeth and jaws.
- A radiation oncologist: This is a doctor who treats cancer using radiotherapy.
- A medical oncologist: This is a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy.
Other specialists are also involved in the treatment of mouth cancers from nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, speech therapists, and other health professionals.
It is important to discuss treatment options with your doctor to find out goals and possible side effects that will help determine which treatment option is the best fit for you. If one is skeptical, it is always wise to seek a second opinion if the time permits.
The main treatment options for people with oral and oropharyngeal cancers are:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Palliative treatment
These treatments may be used by themselves or in combination depending on the location and stage of the tumor.
In most cases surgery is usually the first option in cancers affecting the oral cavity followed by radiotherapy or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Oropharyngeal cancers are treated using a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.
Before choosing a treatment plan, one should consider their overall health, the stage of the tumor, the possibility of curing the disease and the possible side effects the treatment will have on normal functions like speech and swallowing.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical study
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that take a look at promising new procedures and therapies. Clinical trials are sometimes the only way to access new state of the art cancer treatment and any new treatment options. Before agreeing to participate in a clinical trial it is best to have a word with your clinical practitioner since they are not the best option for everyone.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
There are alternative treatments and complementary methods that one may hear about that have not been mentioned by the doctor. These complementary and alternative methods may include vitamins, herbs and special diets or other methods like acupuncture.
Complementary methods are treatments used in combination with regular cancer treatment drugs while alternative treatments are used instead of the doctors’ regular treatments. Some of these methods are effective in relieving symptoms caused by treatments or the disease and may help one feel better, but it is important to know that most of these treatments have not been proven to be effective and may be dangerous. One should tell the doctor of any complementary or alternative methods one may be using.
Help getting through cancer treatment
One’s medical practitioner and cancer care team are ideally the first source of information and support. There is however other sources of information if one may need it. Hospital based support services are an important part of cancer care. These services may also include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab or spiritual help.
There are also national cancer information centers that one can call and get to talk to a specialist. The American cancer society also has programs and services including support groups and more.
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