Chemotherapy for Head & Neck Cancer

How Chemotherapy Is Administered

Chemotherapy drugs are generally administered in three ways:

  • By mouth in the form of a pill you swallow
  • By injection
  • Locally (directly to the tumor site)

Injection methods include:

  • Intra-arterial (IA): into an artery
  • Intramuscular (IM): into a muscle
  • Intravenous (IV): into a vein
  • Subcutaneous (SubQ): into the skin

Local/direct methods include:

  • Intracavitary: in the cavity (or space) where your tumor had been prior to surgery
  • Interstitial: into the brain tissue
  • Intraperitoneal: into your abdomen or peritoneal cavity (intestines, liver, stomach, ovaries)
  • Intrathecal: into the space between the meninges
  • Intratumoral: into the tumor
  • Intraventicular: into a ventricle
  • Convection-enhanced delivery: into your tumor using gravity or controlled flow

Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment where high-powered medications are used to kill cancer cells. It’s a systemic approach to cancer treatment, where drugs are delivered through your bloodstream, targeting cancer cells throughout your body.

Scott & White’s Approach

Scott & White’s mission to provide personalized, comprehensive care is the foundation for our chemotherapy program. Our approach at Scott & White is in individualizing therapy.

There are a wide variety of chemotherapy drugs available to treat cancer. At Scott & White, we use all the standard chemotherapies.

Our medical oncologists take meticulous care to determine which chemotherapy drug or drugs are best for you.

Several factors impact their decision:

  • Type, location and stage of your specific tumor
  • Your overall medical condition 

Treatment Goals

At Scott & White, treatment goals for head and neck cancer include:

  • Removing as much of your cancer as possible
  • Preserving organ function
  • Preventing local symptoms and recurrence

When planning your treatment for cancers of the mouth and throat, your physician team will consider the treatment’s impact on your speech and ability to communicate.

Every effort is made to preserve your ability to speak and nourish yourself in a normal manner as much as possible.

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How Chemotherapy Is Used to Treat Head & Neck Cancers

Our philosophy at Scott & White is to remove as much of your head and neck cancer as possible while preserving as much of your own organs as reasonable.

To do so, your physician team may recommend the use of concurrent chemotherapy and radiation therapy rather than surgery so that you may have the use of your organs and other structures after cure of your head and neck cancer.

Chemotherapy is used in some cases:

  • To shrink the size of your tumor before surgery or radiation therapy; this kind of chemotherapy is called neoadjuvant therapy
  • To kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery or radiation therapy; this kind of chemotherapy is called adjuvant chemotherapy
  • To treat metastatic cancer (cancer that has spread)
  • As a palliative — to relieve the symptoms caused by head and neck cancer, such as bone pain

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Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Each chemotherapy drug is different and each person’s reaction to it can vary. At Scott & White, your medical oncologist will see you through treatment and help you manage any side effects.

Here are some common side effects of chemotherapy drugs for head and neck cancer:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bruising or bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Lowered resistance to infection

For more information about possible side effects, please talk to your medical oncologist.

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