Head and Neck Cancer Treatments

Treatment Options For Head And Neck Cancers

I am privileged to have an awesome team of experts that are with me … we look at everything, we consider everything, and at the end of the day we want to be sure we can stamp the City of Hope name on that treatment plan that we are prescribing and be proud of it.

Ellie Maghami, M.D., The Norman and Sadie Lee Foundation Endowed Professor in Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancers are particularly unique and complex, requiring a personalized treatment plan for optimal clinical, quality-of-life and cosmetic outcomes. At City of Hope, our multidisciplinary team of medical experts across different fields —- including surgery, radiation oncology, medical oncology, pathology and supportive care medicine — will review your individual case and determine the best course of therapy based on the latest evidence-based guidelines and groundbreaking research.

Our physicians are also active members in many collaborations and cooperative groups, participating in numerous clinical trials for detecting, treating and preventing head and neck cancers. This dedication to research also ensures our patients have access to the most promising and leading-edge of cancer therapies.

Learn more about our head and neck cancer treatment options below:


For early stage or locally advanced head and neck cancers, surgical removal of cancerous tissue is the primary treatment. The type of surgery varies depending on the type, size and location of the cancer.

City of Hope offers the latest advances in head and neck surgery, meaning you can achieve outcomes not possible elsewhere. This includes our surgeons’ experience and innovative approaches to cancer removal, technology for minimally invasive procedures and specialized reconstruction to preserve quality-of-life functions.

When possible, minimally invasive surgeries — which use smaller incisions compared to a traditional open procedure — will be performed. This can significantly reduce discomfort, blood loss, hospital stay and recovery time while maintaining optimal outcomes.

Highlights of our head and neck cancer surgery include:

  • Transoral robotically assisted surgery and transoral laser microsurgery, minimally invasive procedures that guide surgical instruments through your mouth and throat cavities and remove the cancer without extra incisions.
  • Immediate reconstruction following cancer removal surgery — usually within the same operation — to restore appearance and maintain normalcy in everyday functions such as breathing, speaking, chewing and swallowing.
  • Experience in surgically addressing complex cases of head and neck cancers, including:
    • locally advanced cancers
    • large or disfiguring tumors
    • tumors at or near vital organs or structures
    • other health conditions that can complicate head and neck surgery

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells. It is typically delivered externally using beams of energy focused on the tumor site.

Radiation can treat tumors that cannot be removed by surgery (sometimes shrinking them enough to be operable) and can be used to relieve pain and other cancer symptoms. It may also be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells at the tumor site to reduce likelihood of recurrence.

City of Hope is a leader in image-driven radiation planning, using advanced imaging technologies — such as computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography scans — to determine tumor size and location and “sculpt” radiation delivery to the cancerous areas. This ensures radiation is accurately delivered to the tumor site, while minimizing exposure to nearby normal tissues.


  • Radiation therapy for head and neck cancers

Drug Therapy

Drug therapy may be given to patients to fight head and neck cancer cells throughout the body by killing the cancer cells or stopping their growth and spread. These drugs include:

  • Chemotherapy, which targets rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy, which selectively attacks cancer cells based on specific characteristics
  • Immunotherapy, which stimulates the patient’s own immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells

The drug or drug combination used depends on the type and stage of head and neck cancer, previous treatments used, the patient’s health and overall treatment goals. This personalized medicine approach may be further enhanced by molecular or genetic testing of your cancer, which can help identify treatments that are more effective and/or less toxic.

City of Hope patients may also be eligible for new, promising drugs through our clinical trials program.