While head and neck cancer is neither as frequent nor as deadly as other cancers worldwide, it is of particular interest to research scientists because of its inherent invasive and metastatic characteristics.
While chemotherapy and radiation are becoming more commonplace, surgery still plays a major role in treatment of the oral cavity and surrounding areas. An otolarygology fellow that I worked with once in a head and neck cancer laboratory once described the most severe cases as a cat and mouse game where the surgeons “chased” the cancerous cells from one site to another.
Recently, the National Cancer Institute issued a report entitled, A Kinder Cut: Advances in Surgery for Head and Neck Cancer. It reviewed many recent advancements in the treatment and management of head and neck cancer, including:
- Smaller Surgeries: The advents of minimally invasive endoscopic approaches to treatment have greatly improved surgical morbidity rates in head and neck cancer patients. Recent clinical trials are experimenting with transoral (through the oral cavity) endoscopic surgeries. While it’s yet to be seen whether this approach to surgery affects long-term survival outcomes, preliminary data seems to suggest decreased surgical morbity levels, hospital stays and blood loss.
- Advances in Reconstruction: Because the standard of care for head and neck cancer often leads to undesirable effects such as loss of speech and taste and a reduced ability to speak, eat, or breath, quality of life for head and neck cancer patients are on the right track. New advancements include surgical techniques that allow surgeons to move tissue from one spot in the body to a point of reconstruction with better success. Microvascular surgeries aim to reattachment of blood vessels to the original site of injury, which can also aid in reconstruction.
Whether your overall goal is cancer treatment or cancer management, it’s still very encouraging news for head and neck cancer patients. See the original report for more details about these and other approaches.