When Rob Clary, 44, of Cave Creek, Ariz., needed surgery for cancer in his throat, the surgeon was able to remove the cancer through Clary’s mouth.
Last February, Clary had surgery at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, one of a few hospitals in the United States to offer this transoral approach for head and neck cancers. Having this minimally invasive surgery through the mouth, rather than traditional open surgery, allowed Clary to avoid having an incision in his chin, his jaw cut in half, an incision in his mouth back to his tongue and throat, and reconstruction with grafts and plates.
Mayo Clinic surgeons have performed minimally invasive transoral surgery for head and neck cancers for 16 years. Mayo Clinic was among the first to offer a robotassisted procedure.
“We perform transoral surgery with a microscope, various lasers, a robot or sometimes all three,” says Michael Hinni, M.D., a head and neck surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
“Regardless which technique is used, transoral surgery has clear advantages over traditional open surgery or radiation strategies. We can remove all of the cancer without significantly altering the patient’s appearance.”
Dr. Hinni used robotic techniques to remove Clary’s throat cancer and part of the muscles in the back of his throat through a small tube passed through his mouth. Multiple lymph nodes also were removed. Clary left the hospital after three days. For eight days, he had a feeding tube through his nose so he could take in nourishment without having to swallow while his throat healed.
Data show that transoral surgery for head and neck cancers offers patients many benefits. Almost half of patients will not need followup radiation therapy because the surgery is so precise. Those who need radiation can have lower doses, resulting in fewer side effects, including swallowing and speaking difficulties.
In April, Clary began six weeks of radiation therapy. He credits his wife, Dawn, with helping him through treatment. The couple has two sons, Jayce, 14, and Ryan, 12. Clary, a certified athletic trainer, plans to return to work when his recovery is complete.
“I’m grateful for my good outcome,” says Clary. “Everyone who treated me at Mayo Clinic was wonderful to me and my wife.”
Dr. Hinni says Clary was fortunate to be treated at a medical facility that offers all the treatment options, including minimally invasive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, from experienced physicians. “Many people could have this type of surgery that is less disruptive to their quality of life, but they aren’t aware of this option,” says Dr. Hinni.