New Sparrow breakthrough for throat, mouth cancer patients

Published: Aug. 31, 2011

LANSING, Mich. - A new robotic procedure at Sparrow could vastly improve the quality of life and recovery time for patients who suffer from throat and mouth cancers.

Click here to see videos about the procedure

An Elsie man is an example of how successful trans-oral robotic surgery can be.

Lynwood Egbert, 76, swore he would never go through the difficult struggle his late wife did in battling cancer. Egbert had trans-oral robotic surgery in May to remove a tumor from his tongue.

"This was very easy," he said. "There was relatively no pain."

Sparrow is the only hospital in mid-Michigan to boast the procedure, which is performed by Sparrow and Michigan State University Health Team physician Barry Wenig, M.D., director of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at MSU.

During the procedure, Dr. Wenig - sitting at a console a few feet from the operating table - uses his hands and feet to manipulate the arms of a robotic instrument in the patient's mouth and throat. A video screen allows the physician to get a more precise look at the patient's tumor, and the robotic equipment permits easier access and removal of the tumor than traditional methods.

The procedure also requires a much smaller incision than the traditional approach, which usually involves a large incision of the jaw and a far greater recovery time and impact on the patient's ability to speak.

Throat and mouth cancers are on the rise, in part because of an increase in a virus called HPV.

"This approach is very effective and can minimize the patient's discomfort after the surgery," Dr. Wenig said. "The instrumentation that's been developed for this can expose the area around the tumor far greater than any other magnification used in surgery."