Radiotherapy of head and neck tumors (cancer of the mouth, pharynx and larynx)

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is used to treat cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx (collectively referred to as "head and neck tumors") at various stages of the disease, either alone or in conjunction with surgery and medical oncology to cure the disease (curative radiotherapy).

Radiation therapy focuses high-energy X-rays on the tumor inside the body to specifically kill it. Depending on the tumor location and stage, radiation therapy is either the first-choice therapy to treat a tumor condition in an organ-preserving manner (e.g., locally advanced laryngeal cancer), an equivalent alternative to surgery (e.g., tonsil or tongue base cancer), a complement to surgery (so-called postoperative or “adjuvant” therapy), or is used when surgery is not reasonably possible (e.g., nasopharyngeal carcinoma or very advanced tumors).

Radiation therapy can also be used if the cancer has already spread: then radiation therapy can prevent or alleviate discomfort caused by metastases, e.g. in the bones (palliative radiation therapy), or prolong survival even if there are few metastases, e.g. in the lungs (oligometastasis).


Radiation therapy is performed as an outpatient treatment, is non-invasive (i.e. does not require anesthesia) and can thus be easily integrated into everyday private and professional life. However, head and neck tumors usually require fractionated treatment over 6-7 weeks. Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy or immunotherapy to improve efficacy. Close and personal support is a matter of course for us. Palliative treatment for symptom relief/treatment of metastases, on the other hand, may be much shorter, depending on the situation, and may extend over only 1-10 sessions.

The Department of Radio-Oncology at the USZ uses only the most modern techniques for the precise irradiation of head and neck tumors with few side effects. These include intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and the technical advancement VMAT (volumetric modulated arc therapy) as standard techniques in our clinic, as well as image-guided setting and irradiation (IGRT). They are supervised by internationally renowned experts in the research and treatment of head and neck tumors: PD Dr. P. Balermpas and Dr. H. Garcia-Schüler.


For many patients, we already offer tomorrow’s treatment today: in clinical trials, we are continuously trying to improve the treatment of head and neck tumors to make it even more effective and tolerable.

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