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School of Medicine
Robotic Surgery for Head and Neck Cancer
Tumors in the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils can be difficult to reach and have traditionally been surgically removed by cutting the bottom of the jaw and making a large incision in the neck. These types of surgeries often require long hospital stays and extensive rehabilitation and can make swallowing and speaking more difficult.
Now, advances in surgical equipment have made it possible to reach these tumors through the mouth by using minimally invasive robotic surgery technology. This surgical approach allows for a guided endoscope to provide a high-resolution, 3-D image of the back of the mouth and throat. With two robotically-guided instruments that act as a surgeon’s arms, tumors are safely removed from surrounding tissue.
Patients who are the best candidates for transoral robotic surgery (TORS) include those with early stage tumors with limited lymph node involvement in the neck, and patients with certain types of tumors of the larynx and throat. About 20 to 30 percent of patients with oropharyngeal cancer are considered ideal candidates for the procedure.
In addition to avoiding the scars left by traditional, invasive surgical methods, studies show that patients who undergo transoral robotic surgery have similar or better post-surgery speech and swallowing function. For some early-stage cancers, the final pathology evaluation may demonstrate that there is no need for additional treatment after TORS.
Head and Neck Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions
Wayne Koch, director of the Johns Hopkins Head and Neck Cancer Surgery Center, answers commonly asked questions about head and neck cancers, including symptoms, risk factors, treatment and quality of life issues.