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Surgery for Oral, Head, and Neck Cancers with Dr. William McNamara

April 11, 2019

In recognition of National Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Month (April), we sat down with Dr. William McNamara of Texas Oncology Surgical Specialists–Dallas Medical City to discuss the minimally invasive surgical procedures available for treating cancers in these sensitive areas.

What are the most effective surgical procedures available for oral, head, and neck cancers?

Most head and neck cancer procedures are performed open, through the mouth, or via an incision in the neck. When it comes to surgery for oral, head, and neck cancers in general, we’re seeing movement toward minimally invasive procedures across the board.

How have you seen the surgical options for oral, head, and neck cancers evolve throughout your career, thanks to breakthroughs in research?

Due to the high amount of HPV-associated squamous cell carcinomas of the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat, which includes the tonsil and tongue base), there has been an increasing use of robotic surgery to remove primary tumors via direct access through the mouth. This type of minimally invasive surgery decreases the amount of additional therapy typically needed after surgery to prevent the cancer from returning, and at times, eliminates chemotherapy in the treatment course entirely, thus decreasing overall treatment time.

Extensive research of oral, head, and neck cancers demonstrates that these specific tumors respond very well to therapy and patients’ overall long-term prognosis is significantly better. Additionally, the treatment of oral, head, and neck cancers has become very personalized, based on the biology of the individual tumors and its response to treatments.

The head and neck is a relatively easy area of the body to routinely self-assess. Any concerns or abnormalities should be brought to the attention of your medical doctor for evaluation and necessary treatment.”

Can you elaborate on your special interest in minimally invasive and trans-oral surgery, robotics, and salivary gland malignancy and surgery?

Transoral robotic surgery is a procedure to remove mouth and throat cancers via direct access through the mouth, using a computer-enhanced system to guide the surgical tools. This technique allows our team to operate on areas deep in the head and neck with excellent visualization and dexterity to remove disease, as opposed to the invasive surgery and long-term postoperative treatment that was once required to treat these types of cancers. These new techniques have brought back surgery as a valid option for treatment in cases that would have previously went directly to radiation and chemotherapy.

In your opinion, what is the most important message to keep in mind this National Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Month?

I would encourage people to take note of three important things:

  1. The head and neck is a relatively easy area of the body to routinely self-assess. Any concerns or abnormalities should be brought to the attention of your medical doctor for evaluation and necessary treatment. Patients who have cancers found early are known to do significantly better overall.  
  2. With the increase in HPV-associated cancers, it is important to be vaccinated appropriately to prevent future disease.  
  3. And of course, do not use tobacco. 

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org