Ear, Nose & Throat care

Head and Neck Cancer Program

Head and neck cancer includes cancers of the throat, mouth, larynx (voice box), lymph nodes, neck, skin, ears, nose/sinuses, face, scalp, salivary and thyroid/parathyroid glands.

Treatment of head and neck cancers can be complex and may require surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Treatment of these areas can affect a person’s appearance and ability to function with regard to eating, swallowing, speaking, smelling and breathing. We believe every patient deserves an expert consultation from not only one physician but a team of experienced and dedicated physicians trained in head and neck oncology.

The Vince Lombardi Cancer Center (VLCC) at Aurora conducts weekly cancer conferences to discuss new cases. Experts in the areas of surgical oncology, radiation oncology, medical oncology, plastics and reconstructive surgery, radiology, pathology, and genetics analyze each case, generate an open discussion, and form a personalized treatment plan. All available treatment options are discussed with the patient and a final treatment decision is made by the patient.

The VLCC offers a multi-disciplinary team approach to caring for head and neck cancer patients along with cutting edge treatment options. We provide minimally invasive surgical techniques to improve recovery times, function and cosmetic outcomes. We offer conformational Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) and the area’s only rapid arc linear accelerator.

The VLCC provides comprehensive cancer care under one roof. The cancer center support staff and nursing coordinator will help guide patients through their appointments and scheduling process in an expedited manner. Comprehensive post-treatment rehabilitative services are also available including speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dietary services, home health nursing, and wound care specialists that offer hyperbaric oxygen treatments when necessary.

Head and Neck Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Head and neck cancers can be detected in many ways. If you are concerned about a tumor in your head and neck region, make an appointment with an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist). They will perform a thorough head and neck exam which may include in-office endoscopy, imaging studies and/or a biopsy.

  • Endoscopy: To examine your nose and voice box, a small flexible fiberoptic telescope will be inserted through your nose and passed into the back of your throat. Prior to insertion, your nose will be sprayed with a decongestant and numbing medicine. The procedure usually lasts less than a minute and is well-tolerated.
  • Imaging Studies: To further evaluate the head and neck region, a CT (Computed Tomography) or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) may be performed. These images give the physician additional information to help make a diagnosis and treatment plan. If cancer is confirmed or highly suspected, a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan may be performed to evaluate for metastatic disease and staging purposes.
  • Biopsy: To diagnose head and neck cancer a biopsy must be performed. A biopsy is a small sample of tissue obtained to be analyzed by a pathologist. Depending on the location, some biopsies can easily be taken using a local anesthetic in clinic; others may require general anesthesia. Suspected tumors in the neck are usually biopsied through the skin with a needle (fine needle aspirate biopsy). Ultrasound or CT imaging is often used to guide the needle into the mass.

Head and Neck Cancer Surgery

Surgery serves as the primary form of treatment for most head and neck cancers. Our surgeons specialize in minimally invasive surgical techniques to reduce recovery times, enhance cosmetic outcomes, and maximize function and quality of life.

Specialized surgical procedures include:

Transoral Robotic Surgery (TORS)

TORS is a minimally invasive surgical technique using the DaVinci Robot to remove cancers of the pharynx (throat and tongue) and larynx (voice box) through the mouth (transoral). In the past, many of these cancers were removed through large neck incisions. Today, specialized mouth retractors expose these tumors allowing robotic instruments and high definition endoscopes access to work in the delicate areas of your mouth and throat. The robot provides your surgeon better visualization with finer, more precise movements when operating.

Our surgeons were the first in Milwaukee and second in the state of Wisconsin to perform TORS for head and neck cancer.

Transoral Laser Microsurgery (TLM)

TLM is a minimally invasive surgical technique using specialized retractors/instruments, a surgical microscope and laser to remove cancers of the pharynx (tongue and throat) and larynx (voice box). It is performed through the patient’s mouth (transoral) and avoids a large neck incision. The technique is similar to TORS without the robotic arms. Also, an operating microscope is used instead of an endoscope. The patient’s anatomy and tumor location often dictates which minimally invasive technique is used.

At Aurora, we understand the physical, emotional and psychological concerns of head and neck cancer patients, and treat them with a multi-disciplinary team approach. Our Head and Neck Cancer Program physicians are focused not only on eliminating the disease, but on maintaining or restoring each patient’s appearance, functionality and overall quality of life.

When your patient or a loved one develops head and neck cancer, it can be a challenging time. Unlike other areas of the body, cancers of the head and neck can present with many visible and audible symptoms. These are often quite distressing to the patient and their family. Swallowing, breathing, voicing and even handling one’s secretions can be difficult. Deciding on an appropriate course of action can be fraught with many questions regarding the type of treatment as well as the patient’s function afterward.