Your specialist works with a multidisciplinary team (MDT) to recommend treatment options for you. The specialist will explain these to you, and together you will agree on a treatment plan.
It is a good idea to take someone with you to appointments to support you and help you remember what is discussed.
See Canrefer for a list of specialist centres in NSW.
What you need to know
Head and neck cancer treatment options
The best treatment for your head and neck cancer depends on several things:
- the type of head and neck cancer you have
- where your head and neck cancer started
- the stage and grade of the cancer
- your general health
- your own choices and preferences.
Your specialist will explain the options to you.
If having children in the future is important to you, talk to your doctor about this BEFORE you start treatment.
Types of head and neck cancer treatment
The treatments used to manage head and neck cancers include:
- radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
- targeted therapy (uncommon)
- immunotherapy (mainly in clinical trials).
Many people have a combination of these treatments.
Some people also have palliative care to manage symptoms, or take part in clinical trials which test new cancer care options.
Purpose of treatment
The purpose of a treatment is known as the treatment intent.
Depending on your situation, this can be:
- curative – to cure the cancer completely
- control – to control the cancer and stop it from growing and spreading
- palliative – to manage symptoms caused by the cancer.
If you need more than one type of cancer treatment, you will usually have these one after the other. Treatments are described as:
- primary – the main treatment for a cancer, e.g. surgery.
- adjuvant – given after the primary treatment, e.g. treatment after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
- neoadjuvant – given before the primary treatment, e.g. treatment to shrink large tumours before surgery.
Sometimes, two treatments can be given at the same time. This is known as concurrent treatment. An example of this is chemoradiation, which is when radiation therapy and chemotherapy are given at the same time.
What to ask or talk about
Understanding your treatment options
Your specialist should explain:
- what they think is the best treatment for you
- how helpful they expect it to be
- where you can have your treatment
- any side effects you may get
- whether there is a clinical trial you could take part in
- any costs involved with treatment.
This will help you to make an informed decision about what treatment to have.
Making treatment decisions
Some key points to remember when making treatment decisions:
- Make sure you have all the information you need to make your decision, including what costs will be involved.
- Ask the specialist to explain more clearly if you don’t understand the choices.
- Don’t be rushed into decisions.
- Take time to think about your choices and discuss them with your doctors and your family or friends.
- If you are not happy with the choices you are offered, you can ask to see another specialist for a second opinion.
Once you and your specialist have agreed on your treatment, a treatment plan will be made.
The treatment plan gives details of:
- the different treatments you will have
- the order you will have them in
- where you will have each treatment
- what each treatment will involve
- how long the treatment will take.
Before you start treatment, make sure you know:
- the date and time of your first treatment
- where you need to go
- if you need any tests beforehand
- whether there is anything you should do to prepare
- when you next need to see your specialist.