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The clinical oncologist is primarily involved in using chemotherapy and radiotherapy to cure patients with head and neck cancers.

Radiotherapy is most often used with chemotherapy (chemoradiation) or sometimes after surgery if the margins around the cancer are close. The decision on whether to use surgery or radiotherapy (or both) depends on the cancers location, how it appears under the microscope and other illness’s the patient may have.

Treatment is delivered by machines known as Linear accelerators or Linacs and is directed by x-rays and CT scans performed immediately before the treatment (to confirm that the patient is in the correct position); this is known as image guidance. Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) has now become the standard radiotherapy technique allowing greater doses of radiation to be delivered to complex shapes in the head and neck, improving the target coverage and reducing the doses to critical structures such as the salivary glands.

Linear accelerator

This in turn reduces the longer term consequences of treatment such as mouth dryness and taste changes.

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Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Longfleet Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 2JB. Tel: 01202 665511

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