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VCU Massey Cancer Center


Treatment and survival

Two major methods are currently employed in the treatment of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy has been utilized as induction therapy or combined with mixed results. More promising results are being obtained with combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


Surgery alone is generally reserved for early tumors in regions where significant functional and cosmetic deficits will not result from this treatment.


Radiation therapy may be used alone in early tumors, most notable in early laryngeal cancer in order to preserve laryngeal function. It also may be used alone for unresectable tumors. In this instance, it may be considered a palliative treatment and not intended as a cure.

Combined therapy

Surgery and radiation are often used together in more advanced lesions. As combined treatment has evolved, surgery with postoperative radiation therapy is most often employed. Recent advances in reconstructive surgery have further improved functional and cosmetic outcomes.

In select instances, promising results are being obtained with combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy in an effort to avoid surgical resection.


Although good initial responses have been obtained with induction chemotherapy, the long-term outcomes are unclear. In general, it is not recommended to use chemotherapy as a sole treatment with curative intent for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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