How treatment is planned

  • Decisions about treatment

    Your doctors may tell you there are different options for your treatment. Having the right information will help you make the right decision for you.

  • Surgery

    Surgery involves removing all or part of the cancer with an operation. It is an important treatment for many cancers.

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy rays, usually x-rays and similar rays (such as electrons) to treat cancer.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat many different types of cancer. It is most commonly given as an injection into a vein or as tablets or capsules.

  • Targeted (biological) therapies

    Targeted (biological) therapies interfere with the way cells grow and divide.

  • Supportive and other treatments

    Other treatments can be used as part of the main cancer treatment and to treat side-effects.

  • Clinical trials

    Many people are offered a trial as part of treatment. Find out more to help you decide if a trial is right for you.

  • Life after cancer treatment

    You might be thinking about how to get back to normal following treatment. Find advice, information and support about coping with and after cancer.

A multidisciplinary team (MDT) is a group of specialists who plan the best treatment for you. It includes surgeons, a plastic surgeon, a cancer doctor, a specialist nurse and a dietitian. There may also be a dental specialist, physiotherapist or counsellor.

Your specialist will talk over the treatment options with you. You may find it useful to make a list of questions and to have a relative or friend with you to help go over things later.

The specialist will explain the advantages and disadvantages of any treatments. They will also talk to you about the possible side effects of treatment. If two treatments are as effective as each other, they may offer you a choice of treatments.  It’s important to make sure you have enough information to make your decision.

You will need to give permission (consent) before doctors can start your treatment.

How treatment is planned

In all hospitals, a team of specialists meets to discuss and decide on the best treatment for you. This multidisciplinary team (MDT) will include the following:

  • An ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon – a specialist in treating conditions of the ear, nose, throat and neck. They may also be called an otolaryngologist.
  • An oral and maxillofacial surgeon – a specialist who has trained both as a doctor and a dentist. They specialise in treating conditions affecting the mouth, jaw, face and neck. As well as operating to remove the cancer, they also rebuild tissue lost due to the cancer or surgery.
  • A plastic and reconstructive surgeon – a surgeon skilled in rebuilding tissue in the head and neck.
  • An oncologist – a doctor who specialises in cancer treatments such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.
  • A radiologist – a doctor who analyses scans and x-rays.
  • A pathologist – a doctor who advises on the type and extent of the cancer.
  • A clinical nurse specialist – a nurse who gives support, practical advice and information about any aspect of your illness or treatment.
  • A speech and language therapist – a therapist who specialises in helping with communication and swallowing problems.
  • A dietitian – someone who advises you on how to make sure you get all the nutrients your body needs.

The team will often include a number of other healthcare professionals, such as a dentist, an oral hygienist, a restorative dentist (who specialises in making sure your teeth look and work as normally as possible), a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist and a psychologist or counsellor.

One or more of the team will meet with you, and a relative or friend, to explain your treatment options and answer any questions you may have.

Treatment decisions

If two treatments are equally effective for the type and stage of cancer you have, your doctors may offer you a choice. If you have to decide between treatments, make sure that you have enough information about the different options.

It’s important to understand what each treatment involves, and the possible side effects, before you decide what is right for you. It can help to make a list of the questions you want to ask and to take a relative or close friend with you when you see the doctor. Take notes about what has been said so you can refer back to them afterwards.

Remember to ask questions about anything you don’t understand or feel worried about. You may find it helpful to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each option with your doctor, specialist nurse, or with our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Giving consent

Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain its aims. They will ask you to sign a form saying that you give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment.

No medical treatment can be given without your consent.

Before you are asked to sign the form, you should be given full information about:

  • the type and extent of the treatment
  • its advantages and disadvantages
  • any significant risks or side effects
  • any other treatments that may be available.

If you don’t understand what you’ve been told, let the staff know straight away, so they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it’s not unusual to need repeated explanations.

It’s a good idea to have a relative or friend with you when the treatment is explained, to help you remember the discussion.

You may also find it useful to write a list of questions before your appointment.

People sometimes feel that hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it’s important for you to know how the treatment is likely to affect you. The staff should be willing to make time for your questions.

You can always ask for more time if you feel that you can’t make a decision when your treatment is first explained to you.

You are also free to choose not to have the treatment. The staff can explain what may happen if you don’t have it. It’s essential to tell a doctor or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don’t have to give a reason for not wanting treatment, but it can help to let the staff know your concerns so they can give you the best advice.

Back to Head & neck cancers


causes and risk factors of head and neck cancers


the practical, work and financial side


with and after treatment for head and neck cancers


and publications to order, download and print