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New Surgery for Head and Neck Tumors Promises Faster Recovery for Patients

New BMC procedure treats benign and malignant tumors of the throat, larynx and neck.
BMC is the only hospital in New England offering the innovative TORS procedure.
Photo courtesy of Intuitive Surgical, Inc.

It is estimated that 45,000 Americans are diagnosed with head and neck cancers each year. These tumors are often difficult for surgeons to reach and traditionally require invasive, open surgery to treat. To spare patients from the large incisions and long recovery times associated with such surgeries, Boston Medical Center is now offering a new minimally-invasive procedure to treat benign and malignant tumors of the throat, larynx and neck.

The new robotic procedure, called transoral robotic surgery (TORS), allows surgeons to access and treat tumors through the patient’s mouth. BMC is the only hospital in New England offering the innovative technique.

“We are able to enter through the mouth and use the robotic tools as extensions of our hands. Compared to traditional surgery, I have found patients treated via the robot require less anesthesia and experience less complications, shorter hospital stays and faster recovery periods,” explains BMC otolaryngologist and surgeon Gregory Grillone, M.D., F.A.C.S.. “In addition, this method allows us to better preserve speech, swallowing and other key quality of life issues.”

Head and neck tumor treatments often involve a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In many cases, surgery offers the greatest chance of cure; yet conventional open surgery requires an almost ear-to-ear incision across the neck and splitting the jaw, resulting in significant speech and swallowing deficits for patients.

BMC has been a pioneer in the use of robotic surgery using it for minimally invasive urologic, obstetric and cardiac surgery. The robot allows the surgeon the ability to perform what could be a complicated surgery faster and with less recovery time for the patient. The main advantage of the robot is that the attached instruments can move freely in all directions, similar to movements of the human wrist. Additionally, the robot allows for 3D imaging so surgeons can have the perspective of depth of field while operating.

BMC’s Dr. Gregory Grillone leads the head & neck team’s new minimally invasive procedure.

To date, the BMC head and neck team, led by Dr. Grillone, have performed the procedure on 15 patients. In one case, it was used to remove a cancer deep in the back of a patient’s mouth. Using the robotic procedure, the patient was spared a 10 centimeter incision from his jaw to his chest, a drastic procedure that would also have required cracking the jaw open to reach the cancer and a recovery time of at least two weeks. The patient was able to go home the next day.

BMC’s Head and Neck Cancer Center offers a multidisciplinary approach to the management of all types of head and neck cancers. Experts from a variety of specialties including otolaryngology-head and neck surgical oncology, reconstructive facial plastic surgery, radiation oncology and medical oncology, provide the latest in diagnostic and treatment options for patients affected by these cancers. Learn more at bmc.org/otolaryngology.

The BMC transoral robotic surgery team, led
by Dr. Gregory Grillone, is bringing a new surgical technique to Massachusetts to treat tumors of the throat, larynx and neck.