The Sentara Cancer Network partners with Eastern Virginia Medical School head and neck surgeons and researchers to advance treatments, as well as the only dedicated head and neck oncology team in the Hampton Roads region. The team features: three fellowship-trained surgeons, a microvascular reconstruction specialist, a fellowship-trained pathologist, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, endocrinologists, neuroradiologists, dentists, a licensed social worker, a dietician and oncology research nurses.

These experts meet weekly to plan treatment for 100 percent of all head and neck cases, and share information so that they can give patients the best care possible. In 2010, they were the first in Virginia to introduce TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS) at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. TORS is a minimally invasive surgical procedure for removing tumors in the throat and voice box (larynx). Instead of making an incision, the surgeons work through the patient’s mouth to remove tumors.

They use the da Vinci robotic surgical system with TORS, and the system makes it possible to see the area that needs surgery clearly and without making any external surgical cuts. Patients appreciate this because there is less scarring, a lower risk of infection and blood transfusion, easier swallowing afterwards and a quicker return to everyday living. The Sentara Cancer Network continues to advance our technology to better treat our patients.

In discussing the form of treatment, the doctor will consider several factors, including the stage and location of the cancer, the patient's ability to talk, eat and breathe normally, and the patient's age and general health.

Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery

    During surgery for head and neck cancers, the surgeon may remove the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it. Lymph nodes in the neck may also be removed (lymph node dissection), if the doctor suspects that the cancer has spread. Surgery may be followed by radiation treatment. One advanced surgery available in the Sentara Cancer Network is TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS), which uses the precision instruments and fiber-optic camera of the daVinci™ robotic surgery system  to access tumors through small incisions in the back of the mouth. Prospective studies on TORS patients indicate quicker recovery of swallowing and speech abilities after surgery and shorter hospital stays.

  • Radiation Oncology

    Radiation oncology treatment involves the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy). It can also come from radioactive materials placed directly into or near the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy or radiation implant). Radioactive iodine may be used in the treatment of thyroid cancer.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer cells and can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill. The method of delivery depends on which drug is used. The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs that are given. In general, anticancer drugs affect rapidly growing cells, including blood cells that fight infection, cells that line the mouth and the digestive tract, and cells in hair follicles.

  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

    Physicians have long recognized the healing benefits of increasing the oxygen level in a patient's bloodstream. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and tissue. The increased oxygen level can result in enhanced white blood cell activity to promote healing as well as start the formation of new blood vessels for increased circulation. The medical treatment may be used to treat complications of radiation or surgery.

  • Clinical Trials

    Whenever possible, Sentara Cancer Network physicians offer patients the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial. Clinical trials offer patients many benefits. In addition to contributing to medical research, clinical trial participants gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available.

  • Palliative Care

    Palliative therapy is care given to improve the quality of life for patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat symptoms of disease, side effects caused by treatment, and psychological, social and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment. The multidisciplinary treatment team that provides palliative care includes medical doctors, nurse practitioners and licensed clinical social workers.

  • Follow-up Care

    In addition to ensuring our patients are seamlessly transitioned back to their primary care team for ongoing care, regular checkups, which may include physical exams, blood tests and CT scans, are provided after lung cancer treatment. Check-ups help ensure that any health changes are monitored and treated, if necessary. Patients stay in close communication with their doctors if they experience any problems between check-ups.