Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and Transoral Laser Microsurgery (TLM) are all viable options for treating throat cancer. Your physician will advise you regarding the best option for your specific case, which depends on your overall health status, how early the cancer was detected, the size of the tumor and whether it has spread, the aggressiveness of the cancer, and the precise location of the tumor. Each procedure has specific advantages and disadvantages that vary from one case to the next.
Surgery is performed under general anesthesia and is often needed when tumors are very large. The specific type of surgical procedure is dependent on the location and size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread. Some surgeries require cutting open the front of the neck to access the tumor and remove it. If the cancer has spread, structures in the throat and neck may need to be removed, including the larynx (voice box) and/or the lymph nodes. The main disadvantages of open surgery are longer recovery times, pain, the risk of infection and the negative impact on normal functions including swallowing, breathing and speech.
If the tumor is small enough and the cancer has not spread, radiotherapy is often used. During radiotherapy treatment, high-energy radiation beams are focused specifically on the tumor to inhibit its growth or kill the cancer cells. On its own, radiotherapy is considered a good treatment option for early stage tumors. It is often used together with other treatments, like surgery, in cases where the tumor is more advanced. Before surgery, radiotherapy may help shrink a large tumor, and after surgery, radiotherapy may help eliminate residual cancer cells.
In cases where surgery is not the best option, chemotherapy may be combined with radiotherapy. Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to inhibit tumor growth or kill cancerous cells. It is also used in cases of advanced cancer that has spread.
Transoral Laser Microsurgery (TLM) is advised in cases of early-stage tumors. It uses an endoscope and microscope to visualize the tumor and a special CO2 laser to remove the tumor, without cutting the neck from the outside or exposing the patient to radiation. TLM can be used to treat tumors of the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), tonsils, base of the tongue, and the region where the voice box and esophagus meet (hypopharynx).