Medical Therapy for Head and Neck Cancers

Medical therapy for head and neck cancers

Medical therapy is the use of medications, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, to kill cancer cells throughout the body.

Patients with head and neck cancer may receive medical therapy if their tumor cannot be cured through surgery alone, or if they have recurrent or metastatic disease.

At Siteman, we have a robust portfolio of clinical trials evaluating novel combinations of existing drugs as well as brand new medications. Our team offers some of the most cutting-edge and extensive trial options of anywhere in the country, allowing our physicians and researchers to find and develop even better drugs for their patients. The majority of Siteman patients have the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial if they so choose.


Chemotherapy is a type of medication that destroys malignant cells. It is typically given as an IV infusion.

Head and neck cancer patients often receive a chemotherapy drug called Cisplatin. This drug can be given in three doses spaced three weeks apart, or in weekly doses spaced over six to seven weeks. It typically does not cause hair loss, unlike other forms of chemotherapy.

At Siteman, we understand that chemotherapy can cause difficult side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue. Your care team will provide anti-nausea medications to prevent symptoms before they start and will do their utmost to help you remain as comfortable as possible throughout your treatment.


Immunotherapies are drugs that stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells. In recent years, they have become a standard treatment for patients with metastatic or recurrent head and neck cancer. Depending on the specific situation and patient, immunotherapies may produce a lasting response.

Pembrolizumab is a common immunotherapy for head and neck cancer patients. Ongoing clinical trials at Siteman are studying how well it performs in combination with other drugs to treat patients with later-stage tumors. These agents are much less toxic than chemotherapy and represent an alternative form of treatment in specific situations that is very well tolerated.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are drugs that attack specific features of cancer cells, causing them to stop multiplying and die off. Like immunotherapies, they are often tolerated better than traditional chemotherapies. They may be given to patients with later-stage tumors.