Local surgeon removing cancer through the mouth

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:

Surgery to remove cancers in the head and neck can sometimes leave patients with negative impacts long after the cancer is gone. But a new approach is cutting back on damage.

With a wife, dog, and a job at a Naples country club, Barry Raab was living the dream until he noticed a lump in his throat.

“Like it was like a swollen gland when you would have a sore throat, but I didn’t have a sore throat,” Raab said.

This started a process he never imagined. A biopsy revealed tonsil cancer.

Dr. Anthony Anfuso pointed it out on a PET scan.

“This right here is his tonsil that we’re looking at. You see, it’s kind of lighting up on the PET scan, suggesting there could be cancer there,” Dr. Anfuso said. He is a head and neck cancer surgeon with Precision Healthcare.

Dr. Anfuso thought he could help Raab using a cutting-edge robotic surgery technique. “He had only one lymph node that looked to be involved with cancer. And the cancer in his tonsil appeared to be fairly small, it was mobile, and it looked to be a tumor that we could get out with clear margins.”

The traditional approach to getting too many tumors in the head and neck meant making large incisions in the face and opening up the jawbone. To avoid such a radical surgery, doctors can now operate and remove the cancer. Going through the mouth.

You can put all of the robotic instruments in through the mouth, so it doesn’t
require any external incisions in the face. All of the instruments are deployed through
a single port, you can get four instruments in there together at the same time. Dr. Anthony Anfuso

Using the mouth’s natural opening cuts down on side effects. In the past, patients often dealt with life-long issues.

“Whether it’s speech problems, swallowing problems, need for a temporary or permanent tracheostomy, or feeding tube, so a lot of morbidity associated with those techniques,” Dr. Anfuso said.

This new surgery is called Transoral Robotic Surgery, or TORS. It allows patients like Raab to have a less invasive operation instead of a traumatic surgery or the use of chemo and radiation.

“It’s really exciting because the data is coming out, and patients are doing excellent with TORS surgery. We’re finding that their long-term side effects are minimized or less than chemotherapy and radiation,” Dr. Anfuso said.

Now, post-surgery, Raab’s cancer is nothing more than a memory. “I have a friend that had a very similar, almost the same cancer four or five years ago, and this was not even an option for him. And he went through months of chemo and radiation.”

While this procedure is fairly new outside of academic medical centers, long-term data show it is every bit as successful in treating cancer as traditional surgery, radiation, or chemo.

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