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Oral Robotic Surgery Provides High Quality of Life for Oropharyngeal Cancer Patients

Transoral robotic surgery resulted in a high quality of life in terms of swallowing, speech, aesthetics, social abilities, and overall quality of life among patients with oropharyngeal cancer. These results were recently published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery.

Oropharyngeal cancer refers to cancer of the oral cavity (mouth and surrounding structures) and pharynx (throat, directly under the mouth). Typically, patients with early oropharyngeal cancer, or cancer that has not spread to distant sites in the body, will undergo surgery to removal as much of the cancer as possible. Results of the surgery can significantly decrease quality of life, including a loss or decline in the ability to swallow and speak. Just as important, surgery can result in severe disfigurement of the face and neck, affecting a patient’s social life and overall quality of life.

Robotic surgery has recently been evaluated for certain types of surgery, as it tends to be less invasive than some standard surgeries, resulting in less scarring, disfigurement, and risk of other complications associated with standard surgeries.

Robotic surgery utilizes a “robotic” arm that tends to be small, that can act like a surgeon’s hands and fingers. The movements of the robotic arm are controlled by the surgeons, as they are able to monitor the surgery via screens.

Researchers recently evaluated the potential effects of transoral robotic surgery on quality of life for the treatment of patients with oropharyngeal cancer. They conducted a trial that included 81 patients who had not received prior treatment for their oropharyngeal cancer. Patients received transoral robotic surgery and filled out questionnaires regarding different parameters of their quality of life at different intervals following surgery.

Immediately following surgery, patients reported declines in speech, eating, aesthetics, social and overall quality of life.
At one year following surgery, “scores for aesthetic, social, and overall QOL [quality of life] remained high.”
Patients who received radiation therapy and those who were 55 years of age or older had worse quality of life scores than those who were younger and/or did not receive radiation therapy.
The researchers concluded that patients with oropharyngeal cancer who undergo transoral robotic surgery “maintain a high QOL at 1 year after surgery.”

Patients should speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of robotic surgery, as not all centers or surgeons perform surgery utilizing this type of procedure, nor is it of benefit for all types of surgeries.

Reference: Dziegielewski P, Teknos T, Durmus K. Transoral Robotic Surgery for Oropharyngeal cancer. Long-Term Quality of Life and Functional Outcomes. JAMA JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;():1-9. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2013.2747.