Chemotherapy: How It Can Help
Chemotherapy for oral cancer uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from dividing.1 These drugs are carried throughout the body in the blood. As a result, they reach not only cancer in the head and neck, but also any that has spread to other areas.2
Goals of Chemotherapy
The goals of chemotherapy vary depending on the stage of your oral cancer.3 These include:
Controlling cancer. When cancer is at an earlier stage, the goal may be to shrink the tumor and keep the cancer from growing and spreading.3
Reducing symptoms. When cancer is at a more advanced stage, the purpose may be to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.3
To maximize the effects, chemotherapy may be combined with other treatments2, such as:
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Anticancer drugs are given before another treatment. This can shrink a large tumor, making it easier to remove with surgery or treat with radiation.2,3,4,5
Adjuvant chemotherapy. Anticancer drugs are given after surgery3 or at the same time as radiation. The combined approach may work better than surgery or radiation alone. It can lead to better control of the disease or greater relief of symptoms. But the side effects can be increased as well. People with a history of smoking, drinking, and poor eating habits may be especially prone to serious complications.2
1 “Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment (PDQ): Treatment Option Overview.” National Cancer Institute, August 27, 2008. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/lip-and-oral-cavity/patient/page4 Accessed 2010.
2 “Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Chemotherapy.” American Cancer Society, September 28, 2007. www.cancer.org/Cancer/OralCavityandOropharyngealCancer/DetailedGuide/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer-treating-chemotherapy Accessed 2010.
3 “What Are the Goals of Treatment with Chemotherapy?” American Cancer Society, June 17, 2009. www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/TreatmentTypes/Chemotherapy/ChemotherapyPrinciplesAnIn-depthDiscussionoftheTechniquesanditsRoleinTreatment/chemotherapy-principles-goals-of-chemo Accessed 2010.
4 “Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment (PDQ): Stage III Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer.” National Cancer Institute, May 22, 2008. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/lip-and-oral-cavity/healthprofessional/page7 Accessed 2010.