The most common treatment is surgery. The type of operation depends on the size of the cancer and its site. The operation may be to remove the cancer and some of the surrounding normal tissue.
Sometimes surgery is aimed at curing the cancer by removing it all. Sometimes surgery is used to relieve symptoms if the cancer is at an advanced stage (palliative surgery). The operations are all done whilst you are asleep under a general anaesthetic.
Laser surgery may sometimes be used to remove small mouth cancers. This may be combined with a light-sensitive medicine in treatment known as photodynamic therapy (PDT).
Sometimes a special type of surgery called micrographic surgery, or Mohs' surgery, is used for cancers on the lip. In this surgery, the surgeon removes the cancer in very thin layers and the tissue that has been removed is examined under a microscope during the operation. This technique makes sure that all the cancer cells are removed and only a very small amount of healthy tissue is removed.
Radiotherapy is a treatment which uses high-energy beams of radiation which are focused on malignant (cancerous) tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying. See the separate leaflet called Radiotherapy for more details.
Two types of radiotherapy are used for mouth cancer: external and internal.
- External radiotherapy. Radiation is targeted on the cancer from a machine. (This is the common type of radiotherapy which is used for many types of cancer.)
- Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy). This treatment involves placing small radioactive wires next to the cancer for a short time. These are then removed.
Chemotherapy is a treatment which uses anti-cancer medicines to kill cancer cells, or to stop them from multiplying. Chemotherapy may be used in conjunction with radiotherapy or surgery. Chemotherapy may also be advised if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. See the separate leaflet called Chemotherapy for more details.
Newer treatments are being used in research for the treatment of mouth cancer:
Targeted therapy is a type of chemotherapy that only affects or targets cancer cells:
- The advantage it is hoped to have over conventional chemotherapy is that it shouldn't harm healthy cells.
- Epidermal growth factor receptor monoclonal antibody (EGFR mAb) is one form of targeted therapy. Cetuximab is an EGFR mAb.
- Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are another.
Immunotherapy is treatment that aims to boost the body's own immune system to destroy the cancer cells. It is also sometimes called biological therapy:
- • Recombinant interleukin (rIL-2) is a form of immunotherapy.
It is not known yet whether being treated with a targeted therapy or immunotherapy improves the outcome for people with mouth cancer.