Oral cavity cancer, or just oral cancer, is cancer that starts in the mouth (also called the oralcavity). Oropharyngeal cancer starts in the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat just behind the mouth.
After the cancer is found and staged, your doctor will discuss treatment choices with you. Based on the stage and location of the tumor, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors may include:
- An otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose, and throat, or ENT doctor): a surgeon who treats certain diseases of the head and neck.
- An oral and maxillofacial surgeon: a dental surgeon who treats diseases of the mouth, teeth, and jaws.
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy.
Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, speech therapists, and other health professionals.
It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer? If time permits, it is often a good idea to get a second opinion. A second opinion can provide you with more information and help you feel confident about your chosen treatment plan.
The main treatment options for people with oral and oropharyngeal cancers are:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Palliative treatment
These may be used either alone or in combination, depending on the stage and location of the tumor. In general, surgery is the first treatment for cancers of the oral cavity, and may be followed by radiation or combined chemotherapy and radiation. Oropharyngeal cancers are usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
It is important to take time and think about all of your choices. When you choose a treatment plan, consider your overall health, the type and stage of the cancer, the chances of curing the disease, and the possible impact of the treatment on important functions like speech, chewing, and swallowing.