As we honor Head and Neck Cancers Awareness Month, can you share why you decided to care for this patient population? What are the biggest rewards?
Head and neck cancers affect every single critical aspect of a patient's life, such as eating, speaking, and breathing. Helping patients overcome this devastating disease and restore these basic functions is incredibly rewarding. Patients with head and neck cancer are faced with tough conditions during their treatment and seeing patients endure these challenges demonstrates the strength of the human spirit, perseverance in the face of hardship, and this is the most rewarding aspect of all, to see patients come out on the other side of treatment, pick themselves up, and move on to the next chapter of their lives.
Is there a piece of advice or support you try to extend to patients and their families? Words of hope?
I aim to be my patient’s cheerleader and encourage their family members to provide that same sort of support. We all need encouragement to get through the difficult times, and the support of family members goes hand in hand with how well patients get through treatment. Family support affects outcomes and survival! Additionally, I encourage patients to stop smoking, if they do smoke, cut down and eliminate alcohol use, and to eat well. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, minimize intake of animal products, and exercise.
What advances have made the biggest impact in the surgical care of patients with head and neck cancers over the last 5-10 years?
In the past 10 years, the adoption of transoral robotic surgery as an effective surgical treatment for oropharyngeal cancer has been shown to decrease morbidity compared to surgical techniques employed for this condition that were used as recently as 20 and 30 years ago. Patients are surviving longer with fewer side effects from treatment. Additionally, free tissue transfer, or transplanting one part of the body to reconstruct the head and neck after a tumor has been removed, has become the standard of care. This surgical technique has significantly improved patient's quality of life and allows us to remove tumors that in the past may have been considered unresectable.
How do you work with other members of the Head and Neck Cancers Program to provide multidisciplinary care?
The head and neck surgeons at Smilow Cancer Hospital work hand in hand throughout a patient’s treatment with all the different providers that are caring for these patients. We meet weekly at our multidisciplinary head and neck tumor conference, where radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, speech pathologists, neuroradiologists, and pathologists come together and discuss individual patients and create patient-specific treatment plans. In addition, we continue to work together to coordinate our schedules for patients' convenience, throughout the treatment period and for years following treatment. The Head and Neck Cancers Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital is world-class, and I am honored to work with these phenomenal clinicians.