Chemotherapy for Head and Neck Cancer

Chemotherapy for head and neck cancer can be given in several different ways. At the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, our head and neck specialists will meet to discuss your cancer and develop a personalized treatment plan for you.

Many different drugs are used in chemotherapy; the potential side effects are different for each of them. If you have chemotherapy for head and neck cancer, your oncologist will talk with you about your options for chemotherapy and answer any questions.

At the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, we use the latest chemotherapy treatments, including targeted biologic therapies. These medicines are designed to act on specific molecules in the cancer cells to keep them from growing and spreading.  You may also be eligible for a clinical trial, during which you will be treated with new or experimental forms of chemotherapy.

How is Chemotherapy Used To Treat Head & Neck Cancer?

Chemotherapy can be used before surgery or radiation therapy to reduce the size of a cancerous tumor, particularly in sensitive areas such as near the eye. Having chemotherapy first could make surgery or radiation more likely to cure the cancer. 

Chemotherapy can also be used in combination with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation together can be more effective than either treatment alone. Combined chemotherapy and radiation is sometimes called “chemoradiation.” It can be especially helpful if the cancer is in a place that is difficult to reach with surgery or if surgery alone would not cure the cancer. Chemoradiation is often preferred when surgery would result in severe, permanent loss of function (such as loss of your voice box).

Chemotherapy is also used to relieve symptoms of advanced head and neck cancer if a cure is not possible. This can improve quality of life.

Chemotherapy side effects

Many people are concerned about possible chemotherapy side effects. The most common side effects from drugs used to treat head and neck cancer are nausea, fatigue, sores in the throat and possibly skin rash. Hair loss is not expected from typical drugs used to treat head and neck cancer. Today’s chemotherapy medicines can cause fewer side effects than in the past, and there are new medicines to help with them. If you do have side effects, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute team will help you cope with them.

Chemotherapy in your community

Whether you have chemotherapy before surgery, with radiation or to relieve head and neck cancer symptoms, our goal is to make it as convenient and comfortable for you as possible. The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute community clinics can allow you to receive chemotherapy close to home.

For more information about chemotherapy treatments for head and neck cancer or to make an appointment, please contact OHSU Knight Cancer Institute at 503 494-5355.