Author: Carolina Pickens
Oral cancer is diagnosed in almost 50,000 Americans each year and has a 57 percent survivability rate past five years, according to research from the Oral Cancer Foundation.
The number of diagnoses has been fairly constant in oral and pharyngeal cancer for decades, but survivability has actually gone up slightly in the last 10 years. This can be attributed to the increasing percentage of patients with dental insurance attending annual appointments (when oral cancer is most often recognized and diagnosed earlier), the spread of HPV-related oral cancer (which is easier to treat) and advances in diagnostic tools for dentists and oral specialists.
These advancements aren’t limited to recognizing oral and throat cancer; strides in scientific approaches for surgical treatment are changing the way specialists treat oral phalangeal cancers. For example, Nepean Hospital of New South Wales has seen drastic improvement in patients’ quality of life and surgical recovery time by performing transoral robotic surgery (TORS) with the da Vinci System.
This technology provides surgeons the tools needed to perform successful, minimally-invasive surgeries for patients with T1 or T2 throat cancers.
“Without the robot, tongue and throat cancers are among the most difficult tumors to surgically remove,” said Dr. Chin, an otolaryngology, head and neck surgeon at the hospital.
Previous surgical methods required surgeons cut into the neck to access tumors in the throat and back of the mouth — and operations would often last for up to 12 hours at a time. This caused permanent scarring and required recovery time in ICU and months of physical or occupational therapy for patients to learn to talk and eat again.
TORS grants surgeons the ability to operate intraorally, reducing time spent on the operating table down to merely 45 minutes. Surgeons get a 3-D view of the tumor and a high-definition picture of the mouth and throat with this high-tech equipment — this also greatly reduces the likelihood parts of a tumor go unseen and remain in the body post-surgery.
A surgeon, who stays in control of the robot 100 percent of the time, then uses instruments on his or her own wrists to guide the robot during each step of the surgery. The TORS rotation is also far greater than that of a human wrist — granting the ability to access parts of the patient’s throat previously unreachable with conventional surgery.
As noted in Dentistry Today, this minimally-invasive technique has patients eating within 24 hours and cuts recovery time in the hospital from weeks to two days. Patients are able to maintain their independence post-surgery. This is revolutionary for older patients, for whom complicated surgeries often cause a decrease in their overall quality of life.
As more surgical practices obtain this valuable technology, oral and dental specialists expect to see more improvements in survivability rates for patients with pharyngeal and oral cancers.