Oral cancers affect the mouth, lips, gums, and tongue. Pharyngeal cancers affect the throat, and cancers where the mouth meets the throat are called oropharyngeal cancers. These cancers typically require a combination of therapies, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. At NewYork-Presbyterian, our head and neck cancer experts combine their multidisciplinary expertise to provide comprehensive care for oral and pharyngeal cancers, paying particular attention to your appearance and your ability to speak and swallow. Our goal is to cure your cancer while maintaining your quality of life.

A Team of Oral and Pharyngeal Cancer Experts

Your team includes head and neck surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and others with expertise treating people with oral and pharyngeal cancers. Speech and swallowing therapists, nutritionists, and dental oncologists are also available to support your health during treatment and to help you regain function afterward. Your team has the skills and compassion to understand your concerns about treatment and your future after treatment, and they tailor a program of care to meet your needs.

Oral and Pharyngeal Cancer Screening

Recognizing that finding cancer earlier increases the chance of a cure, NewYork-Presbyterian's head and neck cancer specialists host free screenings every spring. A simple examination of the mouth, throat, and neck region is an excellent way to spot many of these cancers as well as precancerous changes early. If the findings of your examination suggest you need follow-up care, we can link you with the best doctors to help you.

Minimally Invasive Oral Cancer Surgery

If you need surgery as part of your treatment, our surgeons will take as minimal an approach as possible, removing the tumor while leaving as much healthy tissue as they can.

  • Whenever possible we remove oral and pharyngeal tumors through the mouth . This may require the use of an endoscope and a laser or use of the surgical robot.
  • Our specialists also perform robotic surgery through the mouth. Such '"transoral robotic surgery" is useful for removing cancer from hard-to-reach areas of the throat. Cameras attached to the robot provide a three-dimensional image for the surgeon. The surgeon guides very small tools at the ends of the robotic arms to remove cancer.
  • Robotic and other minimally invasive surgeries are associated with less postoperative discomfort, a shorter hospital stay, better swallowing function and a quicker return to your normal activities than traditional open surgery or organ preservations strategies such as definitive chemoradiotherapy.

Customized Radiation Therapy

You can receive finely targeted radiation therapy in our state-of-the-art radiation treatment centers. Novel approaches enable treatment to be targeted to your tumor, sparing as much nearby healthy tissue as possible and reducing your risk of side effects. We offer:

  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (which shapes radiation beams of different intensities to your tumor)
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (which incorporates CT imaging throughout your therapy, so your radiation treatments are continually tailored to the changing size and shape of your cancer)
  • Intraoperative radiation therapy (applied during surgery)
  • Brachytherapy (tiny radiation implants embedded directly in your tumor)

Choosing the Most Effective Chemotherapy

Your treatment may include chemotherapy before and after surgery. We will examine the genetic features of your cancer to determine which anticancer drug or combination of drugs will best fight your disease. For example, some people receive a drug called cetuximab, which targets a specific protein involved in the growth of some oral and pharyngeal cancers.

  • We give chemotherapy in our modern infusion suites. Our experienced oncology nurses monitor your response to therapy during the infusion to ensure you are comfortable and support you during your treatment.
  • Sometimes your chemotherapy and radiation therapy are given over the same period. If this is the case, you can often conveniently receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments on the same day, in the same hospital.

Harnessing Your Immune System

Some people with advanced oral and pharyngeal cancers may benefit from immunotherapy, such as the drug pembrolizumab, which boosts the power of the immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells. We give the latest immunotherapies in our infusion suites.

Supporting Your Recovery from Oral and Pharyngeal Cancers

Oral and pharyngeal cancers and their treatment can impair your ability to swallow comfortably and eat certain foods and can cause symptoms such as dry mouth. Our speech and swallowing therapists work with you during and after your treatment to help you maintain these functions as much as possible. Nutritionists are also a vital part of your team and can assist you in making dietary choices to help keep you strong during and after your therapy.

Clinical Trials for Oral and Pharyngeal Cancers

NewYork-Presbyterian participates in clinical studies evaluating innovative treatments for oral and pharyngeal cancers. Your doctor will let you know if you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial.

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