Robotic surgery helps preserve speech after head and neck cancer surgery


  • Carrie Printz

Anew robotic surgical procedure helps remove certain head and neck tumors while preserving the patients' speech and the ability to eat. At the same time, it does not causing visible scarring, according to physicians at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.

The procedure, known as Trans Oral Robotic Surgery (TORS) using the da Vinci Surgical System, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in January 2010 to remove malignant and benign tumors of the mouth, tongue, tonsils, and parts of the throat. Henry Ford Hospital was among the first centers in the country to offer the procedure.

TORS helps surgeons access tumors through the mouth using the slender arms of the robot rather than an open skin incision. The advantage compared with traditional surgical approaches is that patients are able to return to their normal activities within a few days of surgery without major pain or disfigurement, notes Tamer Ghanem, MD, PhD, director of head and neck oncology and head and neck reconstructive surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.

Traditionally, head and neck cancer patients began treatment with radiation or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, depending on their disease stage. TORS potentially enables patients to avoid radiation side effects, including dry mouth, loss of taste, and difficulty swallowing. Patients with early stage tonsil and base of tongue cancer may not need radiation therapy after TORS, depending on tumor margins and the pathology of the tumor.

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