Throat cancer treatments

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on September 13, 2022.

Treatment options for throat cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. The options recommended to each patient vary depending on a number of factors, including the type, stage and progression of the disease. Your multidisciplinary team of throat cancer experts will answer your questions and recommend treatment options based on your unique diagnosis and needs.

This article will cover:

Ask us about throat cancer treatment options

Our virtual assistant is available 24 hours a day. We are here to provide information on various cancer types and information about City of Hope services.


Common treatments for throat cancer

Common treatments for throat cancer include:


Chemotherapy may be used after throat cancer surgery to kill remaining tumor cells. The treatment also may be used as a first-line treatment, either alone or in combination with radiation therapy, for patients whose throat cancer has advanced.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy, a common treatment for throat cancer, may be used as a first-line treatment in early-stage cancers. Radiation therapy also may be used to treat recurrent throat cancer.


Also called chemoradiotherapy, this treatment combines radiation therapy and chemotherapy. It may be used as a first-line treatment for laryngeal cancer and may help patients avoid surgery and preserve the larynx, or voice box.

Chemoradiation may be a treatment option for patients who choose not to have surgery or who are not healthy enough for surgery. It may also be an option to target cancer cells that may have been left behind after surgery.


Surgery is the preferred treatment for early-stage throat cancers. The throat is comprised of the pharynx and the larynx. For advanced stage or recurrent throat cancer, we may combine surgery with other forms of treatment, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. These treatments may be used to shrink the tumor before surgery. Nearby lymph nodes may also be removed during surgery to test for the presence of cancer.

Learn more about surgery for throat cancer

Targeted therapy

Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers typically have an overabundance of the epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, a protein found on the surface of many cancer cells that helps them grow and divide. Because laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers have more EGFR proteins than other cancers, EGFR inhibitor drugs that target the protein may be used in combination with radiation therapy to treat some early-stage throat cancers. Targeted therapy drugs may also be used on their own or in combination with chemotherapy to treat certain advanced or recurrent throat cancers.


Immunotherapy drugs designed to help the body’s immune system identify and kill tumor cells may be recommended when throat cancer doesn’t respond to first-line treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved specific checkpoint inhibitor drugs to treat metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinomas that do not respond to standard treatments.

Treatment options for HPV-related throat cancer

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a leading cause of many throat cancers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates HPV causes up to 70 percent of cancers that affect the back of the throat, tongue and tonsils and some other parts of the throat and mouth. HPV-related throat cancers may respond better to treatment than throat cancers linked to alcohol or tobacco use. Treatment options for HPV-related throat cancers include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Chemoradiation
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Clinical trials

Laryngeal cancer treatment

Treatment for laryngeal cancer may depend on a variety of factors, including your preferences and goals, your overall health and the stage of the disease.

Chemoradiation may be a first-line treatment option for laryngeal cancers diagnosed in an early stage and to preserve the larynx. Surgery may be required if the cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage or recurs after treatment.

Other treatment options for laryngeal cancer include:

  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Clinical trials

Pharyngeal cancer treatment

Treatment for pharyngeal cancers, including tonsil cancer, may depend on where in the throat the cancer is found, the stage of the disease and the overall health of the patient. Treatment options for pharyngeal cancers include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Chemoradiation
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Clinical trials

Surgery may be a first-line treatment for many cases of pharyngeal cancer. The extent of the surgery may depend on whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and/or has affected the jaw, larynx or other areas of the throat.

Side effect management at City of Hope

At City of Hope, our throat cancer experts collaborate with a supportive care team to anticipate side effects and address issues so you can better tolerate treatments. Supportive care services designed to help manage throat cancer-related side effects include: 

  • Nutritional support
  • Behavioral health
  • Naturopathic support
  • Oncology rehabilitation
  • Pain management
  • Spiritual support

Learn more about supportive care

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