Head and Neck Cancer Treatment: Terms You Should Know
Rachel Zohn | March 5, 2018
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with head and neck cancer, learning the medical terminology involved can be overwhelming. Read on for a helpful breakdown of definitions related to treatments and therapies for different forms of head and neck cancer.
Therapies: Part 1
Chemotherapy is the use of medicines and drugs to treat cancer. Radiation therapy uses X-rays or radiation to treat diseases such as cancer. Concurrent chemoradiation is a treatment that uses both chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time. Another type of therapy is called immunotherapy, which is the use of your body’s own immune system to help fight cancer. Targeted therapy uses drugs to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Therapies: Part 2
There are different types of radiation as well. External beam therapy (EBT) is radiation therapy that delivers a beam of high-energy x-rays or proton beams to the tumor site. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a high-precision radiotherapy that uses advanced software to plan a precise dose of radiation, based on tumor size, shape, and location. It delivers radiation in sculpted doses to match the shape of the tumor. Brachytherapy uses radiative implants, such as seeds or needles, which are inserted near the site of the tumor.
Types of surgery: Part 1
There are many types of surgery that may be used for these cancers. Microsurgery is surgery that requires a high-powered microscope, and microvascular surgery is a type of microsurgery to repair blood vessels. An endoscope is a long, thin tube with a camera that a surgeon can use to examine hard to reach areas and remove tumors with a high-intensity laser. Transoral robotic surgery is the use of a surgical robot to remove a tumor from the mouth or throat. The robotic arm allows the surgeon to access areas that his or her hands couldn’t reach.
Types of surgery: Part 2
A laryngectomy is an operation to remove part or all of the larynx, or voice box. A pharyngectomy is the removal of part or all of the pharynx, or throat area behind the nose and mouth. A tracheotomy is performed to create a hole, or stoma, in the trachea, or windpipe, which is used as an alternate pathway for breathing. A cordectomy is when all or part of the vocal cards are removed. Vocal cord stripping is when the outer layers of tissue on the vocal cords are stripped away.
Types of surgery: Part 3
A glossectomy is the removal of part or all of the tongue. A mandibulectomy is the removal or all or a portion of the mandible or lower jawbone. A maxillectomy is the removal all or part of the maxilla or upper jawbone. A rhinectomy is a surgery to remove a portion or the entire nose. Neck dissection is a procedure to remove lymph nodes from the neck. Lymph nodes are small organs located within the lymphatic system, or channels within the body which carry white blood cells that fight infection.
Types of surgery: Part 4
Reconstructive surgery is a procedure to restore structure and function of the affected area following extensive surgery for cancer. Healing by secondary intention is when the wound created by removing the cancer is allowed to heal and scar on its own. Primary closure is when the wound is closed by bringing the edges together with stitches, staples or special skin glue. A skin graft is when the wound is covered with a thin layer of skin taken from another part of the body. As blood vessels grow into the new skin, it “grafts” to the wound.
Types of surgery: Part 5
Flap surgery uses a piece of tissue that is still attached by a major artery and vein to cover a wound. A local flap is tissue that is transferred from a nearby area. Free flap or free tissue transfer is tissue, such as skin, muscle or bone, which is taken from another area of the body and transplanted to the site that needs to be reconstructed. The blood supply to the flap is surgically reconnected to the blood vessels adjacent to the wound.
Complications: Part 1
Facial lymphedema is the swelling of the head and neck area and is a common complication follow surgery or treatment. Mucositis is a complication from radiation therapy or chemotherapy in which the lining of the digestive system becomes inflamed, causing sores in the mouth and throat. Neurotoxicity is damage to the nervous system caused by some treatments. Rampant dental decay and demineralization is the erosion of the tooth’s surface as a result of changes to the saliva following treatment.
Complications: Part 2
Functional disabilities refers to limitations in ability, such as impairment to eating, speaking and swallowing, following treatment or surgery. Karnofsky Performance Scale (KPS) is an assessment of impairment. It uses a score from 0 to 100 to convey a patient’s ability to perform daily activities with 100 indicating completely normal functions. Dysarthria is impairment of speech, such as slurred speech or inability to pronounce words clearly. Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing.
When it comes to treating head and neck cancer, there are many types of therapies, procedures, and surgeries that may be used. Learning the terminology early can help you better navigate your care, or the care of a loved one. Missed part 1 of this glossary series about head and neck cancer? Click here for definitions related to types of head and neck cancers and the diagnosis process.