Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

After your diagnosis, physicians work with you to determine your personalized treatment plan. If we diagnose head and neck cancer early, we may be able to cure the cancer entirely. If we detect the cancer at a later stage, we’ll discuss care options with you to control the cancer, slow down its spread, and enhance your quality of life.

Our compassionate, experienced team of nurses, social workers, physician extenders (nurse practitioner or physician assistant), therapists, and medical oncologists support you throughout every phase of your treatment.

Expert head and neck treatment at AHN

We use surgery to diagnose and stage head and neck cancer. Depending on the stage of the cancer, we can also perform surgery to treat the cancer and remove the tumor. Surgery often offers a chance for a cure, especially when the cancer hasn’t spread to other tissues. We may use it alone or in combination with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

We also provide:

  • Reconstruction after surgery: If the tumor is large, then you may need reconstructive surgery after the tumor removal surgery. We work with experienced plastic surgeons to provide expert reconstruction of the oral cavity or face.
  • Rehabilitation: Head and neck cancer surgery may affect your function. You may need rehabilitation after surgery or treatment. Our rehabilitation services address any problems with speech, swallowing, or voicing, helping you regain your strength and function.

Treatment options for head and neck cancer

We offer a wide range of treatment options targeted to the type of cancer you have. Options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these therapies. We match a targeted treatment to the cancer type and stage for the best results. During treatment, our robust support services help you live the best quality of life.


Our experienced surgeons use the latest techniques and technologies. Their expertise ensures that you receive the highest quality of care with the best possible results. Our extensive surgical treatment options include:

  • Primary tumor resection: Removes the entire tumor including, when possible, an area of surrounding normal tissue to ensure complete removal of cancerous tissue
  • Maxillectomy: Removes the tumor, and if bone is involved, part or all of the hard palate (roof of your mouth)
  • Glossectomy: Removes all or part of the tongue
  • Mandibulectomy: Removes tumors that are on the floor of your mouth that may involve your jaw bone
  • Laryngectomy: Removes tumors that are in tissues near the larynx
  • Neck dissection: Removes lymph nodes in the neck area (if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes)
  • Thyroidectomy: Removes the thyroid and sometimes nearby lymph nodes
  • Reconstructive plastic surgery: Helps restore your appearance after certain oral or throat cancer surgeries

Radiation therapy

AHN is the only radiation oncology network accredited in western Pennsylvania by the American College of Radiology. The accreditation means that we meet specific guidelines for patient safety, quality control, and efficiency of equipment. At the Cancer Institute, you are receiving the highest-quality care available.

Radiation therapy uses high dose X-rays to target tumor cells. Sometimes, the radiation beam can damage normal cells in the process. However, these healthy cells are better able to repair themselves, and most recover from radiation treatment.

Our skilled radiologists offer several cutting-edge and targeted treatment options, including:

  • Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT): We direct the radiation beam from multiple angles in smaller doses. This process helps minimize the side effects while offering maximum treatment. It helps lessen the injury to surrounding tissue and the salivary glands.
  • Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT): This therapy uses frequent imaging to deliver precise radiation therapy. We image a tumor immediately before or during radiation treatment so we can shape the radiation beam to match the tumor exactly. Precisely targeting the tumor results in minimal harm to surrounding healthy tissues.
  • MR-Linac: Radiation treatments are already delivered with pinpoint accuracy, but the new MR-Linac* takes precision to the next level. We are the only cancer center in the region and one of only six in the United States that will be testing this new innovative technology. The MR-Linac combines a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine with the radiation delivery machine – known as a linear accelerator – into one treatment device. The MRI provides high-quality images of a tumor in real-time, and then the linear accelerator emits radiation beams to the exact location of the cancer. 

Inhaling and exhaling causes organs, tissues, and the actual tumor to move. This technology – which will be in research phase in 2021 at the AHN Cancer Institute at Allegheny General Hospital – allows us to see images of a patient’s body as breaths are taken, so we can directly target the tumor with radiation. If a tumor moves out of the determined radiation area as a patient inhales the radiation automatically turns off. When the patient exhales and the tumor returns to its original position the high-energy beams resume.

This type of delivery limits healthy tissue and organs from being radiated while providing a powerful dose of radiation to the cancer.

Medical oncology for head and neck cancer

You may need chemotherapy medications, depending on the type of cancer. Medical oncology may be the most effective treatment for metastatic cancer (when the cancer has spread to other organs) and recurrent cancer (when the cancer has come back after treatment).

We use the latest forms of chemotherapy and immunotherapy for precise and targeted treatment. Throughout your treatment, we monitor your wellness and determine the right amount of medication. This ongoing monitoring reduces side effects and maximizes the treatment’s effectiveness.

Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: Just as antibiotics kill bacteria, chemotherapy kills cancer cells. These powerful drugs can sometimes damage normal cells. Side effects may occur, including dry mouth, oral ulcers, altered taste, nausea, and lowered blood counts, which may lead to infection. Fortunately, your body’s normal cells repair themselves much better than cancer cells. Side effects are generally temporary.
  • Targeted therapy: This therapy can be more effective than traditional chemotherapy with fewer side effects. It attacks specific genes within the surrounding blood vessels to stop cancer from growing. This method stops the tumor’s growth.
  • Immunotherapy: This therapy helps activate your immune system to fight cancer better.

Rehabilitation after head and neck cancer treatment

Speech therapy is an important aspect of head and neck cancer treatment. Our specially trained and compassionate speech therapists work with you during and after treatment. We help you achieve the best possible results for swallowing, eating, and speaking. Our Navigation Team guides you through the rehabilitation process, including assisting you in scheduling appointments.

Contact us

Call the AHN Cancer Help Line anytime at (412) 578-HOPE (412) 578-4673 to schedule a cancer-related appointment or to just talk with our nurses about diagnoses, treatments, and side effects.


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