Head and Neck Cancer Stem Cell Research
How do doctors treat head and neck cancer?There are two primary treatments for squamous cell carcinoma - head and neck cancer - and they haven't changed much over the years. When appropriate, doctors use surgery to remove the tumor. An alternative to surgery is radiation. Recently, radiation is often given in combination with chemotherapy - because using the two treatments together improves patient outcomes in certain situations. The benefit of using chemotherapy with radiation was demonstrated about 20 years ago in research led by U-M scientist Gregory Wolf. Chemotherapy used alone is generally not effective for head and neck cancer.
Today, patients benefit from precise radiation therapy and more effective reconstructive surgery, which is performed immediately after the cancer is removed. Once surgeons take out a patient's tongue or a portion of the jaw, physicians have better rehabilitation options available than before. This doesn't affect cancer treatment, but it does improve patients' quality of life and reduces side effects.
The biggest challenge for patients with head and neck cancer is that the effects of treatment can be very visible. It can affect patients' ability to swallow and talk. The biggest challenge for physicians is to help patients look normal and be able to swallow and speak, as well as to cure their cancer.