Early Detection, Robotic Surgery Help Cancer Patient Avoid Radiation

As a loving husband and devoted father, Earl always took his physical health seriously. He never smoked, scheduled annual physicals and went to the dentist regularly. He was doing everything he could to ensure that he would always be there for his family.

When his daughter complained of a sore throat one day, it's no surprise that Earl jumped at the chance to make it a teachable moment. He explained to his daughter that swollen lymph nodes often accompany a sore throat. As he was showing her how to check her lymph nodes, he noticed that a lymph node on the left side of his neck was enlarged.

While Earl thought this was odd, he decided to wait to talk to his doctor at his upcoming physical, which was just a few weeks away. At his physical, in early November, Earl's primary care physician confirmed that the left neck lymph node was enlarged and required a closer look.

A biopsy was scheduled for early January.

Earl's Diagnosis and Surgery

By the end of January, the results were back — Earl was officially diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer that had spread into his lymph node. Earl's primary care physician directed him to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist, who identified the primary cancer site at the base of his tongue. The ENT recommended immediate treatment and provided Earl with the names of several specialists in the DC area.

After researching these surgeons online, Earl chose to work with Stanley Chia, MD, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

At this appointment, Dr. Chia evaluated Earl's throat to confirm the primary cancer site was located at the left base of his tongue. He then ordered a PET-CT to make sure the cancer was isolated to only the tongue base and the lymph node in the left neck.

Once it was confirmed that the cancer had not spread beyond the lymph node, Dr. Chia explained to Earl that he was a prime candidate for robotic surgery. The base of tongue can be difficult to reach with standard surgical techniques, and the robotic approach is ideally suited to this approach. Surgery to remove the lymph nodes from the left side of his neck would be performed simultaneously.

Surgery was set for April 4, which was ideal timing for Earl, because it allowed him to keep his plans to spend his daughter's spring break with his family.

While Earl was nervous as his surgery date approached, he was pleased that Dr. Chia took the time to explain the process and answer all his questions, such as "What kind of scarring should I expect?" and "What are the side effects of surgery?"

Surgery was a success. Earl was able to talk the same day as his surgery. He began eating the day after surgery, and within a few weeks, Earl was eating normally again.

Evaluating His Treatment Options

While surgery was a success, Earl knew that he now had to determine if he would continue on with radiation treatment. Fortunately, the biopsy from surgery showed that the cancer was HPV positive, which meant it had a better prognosis than traditional smoking-related cancers. The biopsy report also confirmed that the surgery had successfully removed the cancerous cells in the tongue and neck.

Standard treatment for head and neck cancers after surgery often includes radiation treatment or even chemotherapy. Earl discussed his treatment options with Dr. Chia and Adedamola Omogbehin, MD, on the radiation team at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and even sought a second opinion.

After evaluating all his options and taking a close look at the side effects associated with radiation treatment, Earl decided to forgo further treatment. He attributes his ability to avoid radiation treatment to early detection, as well as the success of his robotic surgery.

Looking Ahead

Today, Earl is glad to be a cancer survivor, and he has a new outlook on life. He says that the whole process happened very quickly, but that he was very happy with the honest and accurate information provided by Dr. Chia and Dr. Omogbehin.

Earl encourages others to pay close attention to their own personal health and not to be fooled into thinking it can't happen to them. He urges other to be proactive and to get anything that seems odd checked out as soon as possible.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513.

Benefits of Robotic Prostate Cancer Surgery

After the initial shock of finding out that you have prostate cancer, you will probably think of multiple questions for the surgeon. A question we are frequently asked is whether surgery is the only course of action.

When surgery becomes the best option for removing prostate tumors, the next question typically is whether robotic prostate cancer surgery is an option what the risks are, and how long the recovery takes.

Robotic surgery is an innovative technique that can minimize bleeding, risk of infection and damage to surrounding tissues. Educating yourself about the benefits of robotic surgery may help allay your fears of the procedure, thereby reducing stress and worry, and enabling you to have a more positive treatment outcome.

The Risks of Traditional Prostate Surgery

The prostate gland is located in the deepest part of the male’s pelvis. This area is full of blood vessels and nerve structures that control sexual function. The prostate gland is also adjacent to the urinary sphincter, which controls urinary function. During traditional prostate tumor removal surgery, it can be difficult to identify the adjacent muscles, veins and nerves that tightly surround the prostate gland.

If these tissues, muscles or the sphincter are inadvertently damaged during surgery, it is likely that the patient will suffer from urinary incontinence or erectile dysfunction.

Robotic Prostate Cancer Surgery: Who Is a Candidate?

Robotic surgery uses tiny tools that can fit into a laparoscopic incision that is much smaller than the incision required for traditional procedures. The result is reduced ancillary damage to surrounding muscles and tissues, less bleeding, less chance of infection and a shortened recovery period. In fact, while recovery time from traditional surgery might require six to eight weeks, typically times with robotic surgery are about three weeks.

Not everyone is a candidate for robotic surgery. In fact, if you are like two out of three men diagnosed with slow-growing prostate cancer, you may not need surgery at all.

Factors that indicate viability for robotic prostate cancer surgery include:

  • Being sexually active
  • Having normal urinary function
  • A life expectancy of 15 years or more.

Necessary Testing Before the Robotic Surgery

Your doctor will order a 3D MRI that uses the latest technology to identify the prostate gland, urinary sphincter, various nerves and blood vessels that surround the prostate gland. The MRI will provide an accurate view – or map – of the area in order to minimize collateral damage to surrounding tissues.

Doing Your Own Research

Your doctor can provide you with a name of a well-respected surgeon. Look for a surgeon with extensive experience in robotic surgeries and narrow your list to doctors affiliated with facilities that can prove consistent positive robotic surgery outcomes. Ask for data that specifically focuses on the facility’s success with this type of surgery. Most reputable facilities are happy to share this information with potential patients.

If, after your initial visit with the surgeon, you are still undecided about going ahead with the procedure, ask him or her for names of patients who have undergone this type of surgery and who have agreed to answer other surgical candidates’ questions. Being able to talk frankly with other men who have experienced the surgery might help to calm your fears.

Recovery From Robotic Surgery

Some types of slow-growing prostate tumors don’t require surgery at all. Instead, your doctors and specialists can actively observe them during regularly scheduled checkups. Other types of aggressive tumors may require traditional surgery. If your prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment protocol includes surgery, ask your surgeon if you are a candidate for robotic surgery.

In fact, if your prostate cancer is aggressive and threatens to spread to nearby organs or tissues, robotic surgery may be the best choice for you. The advantages of robotic surgery are many, including faster recovery and less downtime.

No one wants to have surgery, but take comfort in knowing that the latest technology enables you to have a shorter recovery time and less chance of potential side effects of the surgery.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513 or click the request a consultation button.