Latest Treatments and Reconstructive Surgery for Head and Neck Cancer

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Reconstructive surgery has improved dramatically, bringing promises of better outcomes to head and neck cancer patients. In this webcast sponsored by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance the focus is on the latest treatments and reconstructive surgery for head and neck cancers with renowned otolaryngologist, Dr. Neal Futran. Dr. Futran is a professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and neurological surgery. He is director of head and neck surgery in the University of Washington (UW) Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Futran and Andrew discuss the greatest advances in the treatment of head and neck cancer over the past 25 years and how different parts of the body have specific blood supplies that allow surgeons to remove tissue to reconstruct a particular area of the head and neck. A living example of these advances is Dr. Futran’s patient, Melvin Wagner, an 80-year-old retired businessman who survived and flourished after treatment for 3 head and neck cancers.

In the fall of 2004, Melvin noticed an irritation on the inside of his check that caused a lot of pain and discomfort. His doctor did a biopsy and Melvin was told to “just live with it.” Melvin would not take no for an answer and sought out a specialist. He met with Dr. Futran and was diagnosed with a malignant tumor under his tongue. The tumor was removed just two weeks after it was found, but unfortunately, two years later, another irritation developed in the gum line about an inch away from where the other tumor had been. Melvin underwent reconstructive surgery, where they removed a section of flesh from his leg and inserted that in his jawbone. Melvin credits Dr. Futran with saving his life. Melvin made a deal with God, in his own words, “If you put me back together again, I will spend 80% of my time helping other people.” Today, Melvin enjoys spending time with his granddaughter Madison and giving a helping hand to others in need.

Learn how these complex surgeries are restoring speech, swallowing and appearance for head and neck cancer patients. In Dr. Futran’s own words, “my goal as a head and neck cancer surgeon is actually to be put out of business by the advances we are making to make these cancers go away potentially without surgery so that patients could have even better function than what we can restore now.”

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Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power sponsored by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I'm Andrew Schorr. Thank you for joining us once again. You know, every two weeks we do a new program on a significant cancer issue with experts from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and always inspiring patients. Today we are going to talk about the latest treatments and reconstructive surgery for head and neck cancer. Now, imagine if you are trying to deal with a cancer very visibly in the head and neck. Typically, you know, you want to cut it out. You want to treat it sometimes with various radiation and drugs, but you want to defeat the cancer. But people need to swallow, they need to taste, they need to breathe, and also they care about how they look as well. So there are lots of issues that come together.

So you are going to hear from a leading expert from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in just a second, but first I would like to introduce you to Melvin Wagner. Now, a lot of people around Yakima, Washington know Melvin. He had been the president of the Chamber of Commerce, active in business in the commercial and industrial roofing business for many years. He has got kids there. He has got a grandchild. He has been married for 57 years to Loretta. But going back to 2005, I think it was, Melvin, what turned out to be just a little irritation inside your mouth ended up being cancer. Is that right?


That's correct.

Andrew Schorr:

And you ended up having three different cancers inside your mouth, and each time then you came to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington to have surgery. How have things worked out?


They have worked out beautifully. I've been cared for in a way that you could never expect, and I've had the three challenges, but Dr. Futran has always met them, and today I'm about as healthy as most 80 year olds you will ever meet.

Andrew Schorr:

Now, I understand, Melvin, you think Dr. Futran, who we are going to meet in just a second, your doctor but also an eminent physician there, he made a huge difference in you getting back your life. How would you say it?

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