Incisionless surgery preserves speech in patients with head and neck cancers

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Surgeons can use a robotic surgical procedure to effectively remove certain head and neck cancer tumors without scarring, according to press release issued by Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

The procedure, called the TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS) uses the da Vinci Surgical System and offers shorter post-operative recovery than standard open surgical approaches to head and neck cancer. With TORS, patients are able to return to their normal lives only a few days after surgery without significant pain and without visible scarring.

“TORS allows surgeons to completely remove tumors of the head and neck while preserving speech, swallowing, and other key quality-of-life issues such as eating,” said Tamer Ghanem, MD, PhD, director of head and neck oncology and reconstructive surgery division in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.

According to background information provided in the press release announcing the procedure, prior to TORS, patients would traditionally begin treatment with radiation therapy, or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, depending on the stage of their cancer. In addition, patients with early stage tonsil and base of tongue cancers may not need to receive radiation therapy following TORS, depending on the final tumor margins and pathological characteristics of the tumor.

“Surgeons operate with greater precision and control using the TORS approach, minimizing the pain and reducing the risk of possible nerve and tissue damage associated with large incisions,” said Dr. Ghanem.

Some of TORS's benefits include:

  • Significantly less blood loss
  • No visible scarring
  • Possibility of avoiding a tracheotomy
  • Minimization or elimination of need for chemoradiation therapy
  • Fewer complications and shorter hospital stay
  • Faster recovery, return to normal speech and swallowing
  • Equivalent cancer control to radiation therapy

Led by Dr. Ghanem, Henry Ford Hospital has performed more than a dozen TORS procedures since it was approved in January 2010 by the US FDA to remove malignant and benign tumors of the mouth, tongue, tonsils, and parts of the throat.

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