Expert Radiation Medicine Treatment for Complex Head & Neck Cancers

Head and neck and base of skull cancers are relatively uncommon, with significant side effects associated with each treatment.  The impact of the tumor and the quality of life implications of treatment is complicated by the complex anatomy of the head and neck, and how important each aspect of this anatomy is for daily functioning.  For each patient at MedStar Georgetown there is team of head and neck cancer specialists -including radiation oncologists, head and neck surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and support staff - who work together to develop a multidisciplinary treatment plan.

A recent study shows that being treated at a high volume center with expertise in head and neck cancer, such as MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, leads to improved outcomes such as survival almost two-fold.

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is the only hospital in the region with  multiple radiation oncologists who are specifically focused on treating head and neck cancer patients, including a radiation specialist with over 35 years of head and neck cancer experience specifically focused on treating cancers of the head and neck and another with significant conventional and proton therapy experience. Our specialists work with a multidisciplinary network of fellow head and neck experts to provide patients with an individualized, multidisciplinary treatment plan, to treat conditions including:

  • Hypopharyngeal cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Lymphomas
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer
  • Sarcomas
  • Skull base cancers
  • Salivary gland (including Parotid gland) cancer
  • Tongue cancer
  • Tonsil, Base of Tongue and other Oropharyngeal cancers

Unlike most radiation oncology centers, our multidisciplinary approach at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center-the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Washington DC region -  features numerous non-physician specialists including nutritionists, speech and swallowing therapists, and occupational therapists as well as access to practitioners with experience dealing with the dental issues associated with head and neck radiation therapy.

Radiation Medicine will be part of the treatment plan for many patients with head and neck cancer and skull base cancer. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays called photons or protons, which can destroy cancer cells during high dose radiation treatments. This happens on the microscopic level. Patients do not feel the radiation during treatment. New technology allows physicians to treat the tumor with pinpoint accuracy, leaving surrounding healthy tissue virtually untouched and minimizing side effects.

Specific treatment plans might include:

  • External Beam Radiation: The most frequently used treatment for head and neck cancers,  focuses radiation on the tumor from external machines. Radiation conforms to the shape of the tumor, treating the cancer while liming the exposure to normal tissue. External therapy is usually given over a six week period. Technologies include:
    • Three-dimensional Radiation Therapy (3D-CRT)
    • Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)
    • Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT), also called RapidArc
  • Internal Radiation (Brachytherapy): Radioactive seeds or pellets are placed in tissue near the tumor. This option depends on tumor size, location, and other factors and is not appropriate for all patients.
  • CyberKnife Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) - Destroys tumors using highly precise, targeted radiation with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. CyberKnife can reach areas not operable through traditional surgery, and can be completed in only 5 treatments, compared to the more than 40 sessions sometimes needed in conventional therapy.
  • Proton Beam Therapy – Uses energy from protons instead of photons, allowing high dose radiation with no exit dose, resulting in fewer side effects than traditional radiation.

Make an Appointment

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a radiation oncologist, call our scheduling line:


Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

Radiation Medicine is an integral part of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the only National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated comprehensive cancer centers in the Washington, D.C., area.

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Radiation Oncologists

Clinical Research

The Department of Radiation Oncology conducts continuing clinical research that focuses on ways to more effectively and safely treat tumors with radiation while minimizing the amount of radiation critical organs and nearby healthy tissue receive.

Ask your physician to learn more about the research at MedStar Georgetown.