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Making the Decision to Have Chemotherapy for Oral Cancer

Your doctor may suggest chemotherapy to treat oral cancer in any of these situations:

  • You are having radiation after surgery for oral cancer. Chemotherapy is sometimes given during the period of radiation to help the radiation work better. Your doctor may suggest this if you had more than one lymph node removed. This is called radiosensitization. And is sometimes called adjuvant chemoradiotherapy. The goal of this treatment is to reduce the chance that the cancer will come back in the future.

  • All the cancer could not be removed by surgery. In this case, chemotherapy can be done both before radiation (called neoadjuvant or induction chemotherapy), or during the period of radiation to help the radiation work better, or both. The goal of this treatment is often to cure the cancer, even if it can't be removed by surgery.

  • You have metastatic oral cancer. In this stage, the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy probably can't cure this cancer. However, it may help you feel better and live longer. It may help you swallow, ease bone pain, and reduce fatigue.

Your medical team will review the chemotherapy options appropriate to your condition. To help deal with the medical information and remember all your questions, it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend with you to doctors' appointments. In addition, bringing a written list of concerns will make it easier for you to remember your questions 


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