Neck tumors can be treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Treatments can be curative or palliative, depending on the nature of the growth and the stage, and the prognosis can involve a number of factors. Younger patients with cancers caught earlier tend to be more likely to survive neck tumors, especially if they don’t have other medical conditions. The more advanced the tumor, the harder it is to treat effectively, and the lower the chance of survival.
The first step in treatment for neck tumors is a thorough assessment of the patient. This can include medical imaging studies, biopsy, blood testing, and a physical examination. Testing determines the exact nature of the tumor and allows a pathologist to grade it, which can provide important information about what kinds of treatment the patient might respond to. It also helps a medical provider develop a prognosis for the patient.
Ideally, surgery is one of the treatment options for neck tumors. In surgery, the goal may be to completely resect the tumor, taking the entire growth out along with neighboring lymph nodes that might be involved. Other surgeries may debulk the tumor to remove part of the growth if delicate structures in the neck make a full resection impossible or ill-advised.
Patients may also receive radiotherapy instead of or in addition to surgery. This targets cancer cells, killing them and preventing the spread of the growth. It can also cause side effects like oral lesions, throat swelling, and difficulty swallowing. Another potential risk of radiation is the increased chance of cancer associated with repeat radiation exposure. The dose is tightly controlled to limit exposure, but the patient may need periodic evaluations to look for new cancers or recurrence of the original tumor.
Chemotherapy can be combined with one or both of the above options for the treatment of neck tumors. These medications may target cell proliferation to halt tumor cells in their tracks and shrink the growth. They can also come with side effects like nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea that may make treatment difficult or unpleasant for the patient. The benefits typically outweigh these risks and make them acceptable.
In curative treatment for neck tumors, the goal is to completely eradicate the tumor and put the patient in remission. Other therapies control the cancer to slow its growth or make it less destructive when it cannot be cured. Patients with terminal cancers may consider palliative care to reduce pain and suffering, in combination with pain management medications to increase patient comfort.