Head and neck cancer – which includes throat cancer, larynx cancer and oral cancers – affects critical functions such as speaking, swallowing and eating, as well as physical appearance. We customize our selection of treatments for each individual patient, to maximize cure rates while minimizing side effects. Our treatments are designed to effectively treat the cancer with an eye toward maintaining your quality of life.
At the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center doctors and scientists are committed to discovering new forms of treatment. By incorporating the newest laboratory discoveries and using the latest surgical and radiotherapy techniques, including new transoral robotic surgery and advanced, highly conformal radiotherapy, we are able to preserve and rebuild the tissues of the mouth and throat so our patients can return to their daily lives with excellent function and quality of life.
U-M physicians have pioneered efforts to use chemotherapy and radiation as an alternative to radical surgery. Our research has enabled physicians to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from this technique, and studies show that patients have good outcomes without unnecessary side effects. When surgery is the best option, we offer minimally invasive techniques -- including new transoral robotic surgery -- using the da Vinci Surgical System.
At U-M, we use the latest CT and MRI equipment to identify and assess how far a tumor has spread. This helps properly stage the tumor and directly affects the patient's treatment plan. Our surgeons have also developed microsurgical techniques to effectively reconstruct the tongue and palate after tumors are removed. Studies show patients who receive this type of reconstruction do better with speaking and eating compared to those receiving other reconstructive techniques. And our radiation oncologists have lead the way in the newest techniques that deliver life-saving radiation while sparing the salivary glands and throat muscles that are critical to swallowing.
At the University of Michigan, we insist on a multidisciplinary approach for our patients with head and neck cancer. Our team of specialists will sit down together to review your case, ensuring you get the best treatment recommendation.
Each patient is discussed by a consensus team of head and neck cancer specialists from the following disciplines:
- Medical oncology
- Radiation oncology
- Nuclear medicine
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Speech-Language Pathology
- Social work
By the time patients are seen in the clinic, all films, pathology and lab reports have already been obtained and reviewed. This allows for a comprehensive visit, followed by discussion among all our specialists at our multidisciplinary tumor board and consensus treatment planning. We also develop a plan for rehabilitation, cancer surveillance and prevention that emphasizes positive changes in health behaviors, diet, and the social and emotional factors that accompany a cancer diagnosis.
Research leads to action for patients
The University of Michigan is one of five hospitals in the country to be awarded a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute. The goal of the SPORE grant is to significantly improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of head and neck cancer.
Researchers at the University of Michigan were the first to discover cancer stem cells in head and neck tumors. These are the small number of cells within a tumor that drive the growth and spread of cancer - and they are likely part of the reason traditional treatments don't always work. Our researchers seek to understand how cancer stem cells work and identify drugs that target and destroy these cells.
In addition, U-M researchers are at the forefront of understanding how HPV, or human papillomavirus, plays a role in the recent increase in head and neck cancers. We know patients with HPV-related tumors respond differently to treatment, and our clinical trials seek to understand how we can deliver the most effective treatments with the fewest side effects.