Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. Historically, surgery and/or radiation have been the indicated treatment for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SSCHN), especially when the disease was limited and cure was possible. Chemotherapy by itself is not curative for these tumors. However, chemotherapy combined with radiation increases the effectiveness of radiation in locally advanced oral, head and neck tumors, and decrease the chances of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. In some instances when it is added to radiation, it helps patients avoid surgery and preserve organs and organ function.
Chemotherapy may be given prior to treatment ("neoadjuvant" or "induction" chemotherapy), during treatment ("concomitant" or "concurrent" chemotherapy) or after treatment ("adjuvant" chemotherapy). Though local control rates of 70-85% have been achieved in selected tumors, toxicity is significant; a feeding tube may be required and intense mucositis, skin reactions, anemia, malnutrition, and dehydration are common side effects.
Questions You May Want to Ask Before Chemotherapy
- Will I need radiation therapy as well as chemotherapy?
- Why do I need chemotherapy?
- Which drug or drugs will I be taking?
- How will the chemotherapy be administered? How do the drugs work?
- How will the radiation therapy be administered?
- Should I see a dentist before I begin treatment?
- If I need dental work, how long will I need to heal before beginning chemotherapy?
- What are the risks and side effects?
- Are there any long-term effects?
- When will the treatments begin and end?
- How many treatments will I need?
- Will I need to stay in the hospital? How long?
- How will chemotherapy affect my normal activities?