Throat Cancer Treatment

What are the different options for throat cancer treatment?

The type of throat cancer treatment that a doctor recommends depends on the patients health, the location and the stage of the cancer. The three most common types of throat cancer treatment include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Surgery as a throat cancer treatment

Surgery is commonly used to treat cancer in the pharynx and larynx. It is also used to reconstruct any area(s) that were removed or damaged during throat cancer treatment. It takes some time to heal after surgery and it is common to feel weak and tired while you heal. Some of the common surgeries for throat cancer patients include:

  • Vocal cord stripping– Done to strip away the top layers of tissue on the vocal cords for biopsies and throat cancer treatment
  • Laser surgery– Often used to vaporize or cut out tumors in the initial stages of throat cancer
  • Cordectomy– All or part of the vocal cords are removed depending on the stage of throat cancer
  • Laryngectomy– Depending on the stage of throat cancer all or part of the larynx (voice box) is removed
  • Pharyngectomy– All of part of the pharynx is removed depending on the stage of throat cancer
  • Removal of Lymph nodes– If the cancer has spread or is likely to spread, the doctors will go ahead and remove the lymph nodes and other tissue in the neck during the initial surgery
  • Tracheotomy– A hole is made in the trachea to help a cancer patient breath. This can be permanent or temporary depending on the surgery and stage of cancer. For a permanent tracheotomy the opening in the trachea is connected to a hole in the front of the neck. Normal speech is no longer possible. In a temporary tracheotomy a small plastic tube is put in to protect the airway after surgery. It is removed when the patient no longer needs it.
  • G Tube (Gastrostomy Tube)– A feeding tube is placed directly into the stomach through the abdomen through which a patient receives his or her food and nourishment. Often performed when throat cancer prevents a patient from eating enough food to maintain good nutrition.

Watch this video of a throat cancer surgery from the BBC.

The side effects and risks depend on the type of surgery performed. As with all surgeries, a patient it at risk for pain, infection, blood clots, anesthesia complications and pneumonia. For the specific surgeries listed above some of the possible side effects include:

  • The permanent loss of speech
  • Difficulty swallowing and eating (which sometimes leads to the placement of a permanent feeding tube in the abdomen)
  • Difficulty breathing and talking

More information on surgery visit the link below:

Surgery from The American Cancer Society

Radiation for throat cancer treatment

Radiation is often used for throat cancer treatment and can be very effective in reducing and/or eliminating cancer cells in throat cancer patients. Radiation uses high energy rays to kill or slow the growth rate of cancer cells. If a tumor is small radiation is sometimes used instead of surgery to preserve speech. It is also used for patients who are not healthy enough for surgery. Radiation is common after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and decrease the rate of their return. Like all types of throat cancer treatment options, radiation does have risks and side effects. Some of these include:

  • Sores in the mouth and throat that make it hard to eat, drink and swallow (leading
  • Weight loss and poor nutrition)
  • Skin irritation on the neck similar to sunburn
  • Changes in thyroid
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Changes in voice (often become hoarse)
  • Loss of taste
  • Trouble breathing
  • Teeth problems
  • Easily tired

Most of these side effects are temporary and go away after treatment ends. Some are worsened when combined with chemotherapy. Be sure to tell you doctor about any side effects you may have. More information on radiation visit the links below:

Chemotherapy as a throat cancer treatment

Chemotherapy is type of throat cancer treatment that uses drugs to target cells that quickly reproduce. It is sometimes used to kill any cancer cells left after a surgery, to shrink large cancer before surgery or to treat cancers that are too large or have spread too far to be removed by surgery. Chemo is usually given in rounds either in pill form by mouth or injected through a vein. Each round usually lasts a few weeks and is then followed by a period to allow the body to rest. This type of treatment is obviously targeted towards cancer cells, but it can also affect healthy cells that reproduce quickly (for example cells in the bone marrow, the lining of the mouth, organs and hair) leading to undesirable side effects. Some of these include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of hair
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased rate of infection
  • Problems with bleeding or bruising
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

As your doctor is recommending different options for throat cancer treatment it is advised that you discuss the possible side effects of chemo. While most go away after treatment ends, some can be permanent. Be sure to notify your doctor of any side effects you experience because many of the side effects of chemo can be treated. More information on chemotherapy visit the links below:

With all of the different parts of the throat, throat cancer can be very difficult to understand. If you need more information we recommend you read more on our other throat cancer pages listed below and then visit the other sites we recommend on our Throat Cancer Resources page.


Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed January 4, 2012.

Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed January 19, 2012.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed January 19, 2012.

What you need to know about Cancer of the Larynx. National Cancer Institute. Accessed January 8, 2012.

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    All content on this site is for general information purposes only. It is not and should not be considered medical advice or used in place of the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the advice of a doctor or other professional for any medical condition.