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Fox Chase Cancer Center Offers New Hope for People with Head and Neck Cancers

Philadelphia (Aug. 25, 2006) - It's one of the most deadly types of cancers and its wrath is hard to hide.

Cancers of the mouth, tongue, larynx, and pharynx are called head and neck cancers. These relatively less common but lethal malignancies account for only 5 percent of all cancers in the U.S. They are usually associated with tobacco and alcohol use.

Curative treatment is harsh. It requires extensive surgery that can leave the face disfigured and can rob a patient of the ability to speak intelligibly, swallow or even eat solid food.

But now, head and neck cancer surgeons like Fox Chase Cancer Center's Miriam N. Lango, MD - Associate Professor, Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Oncology; Medical Director, Speech Pathology, are revolutionizing treatment with transoral laser surgery.

"It's hard to imagine that light could be superior to a scalpel, but the lasers we're using now to treat head and neck cancers can do so much more," Lango says. "More means less --less chance of infection, less healing time and less bleeding, swelling and scaring."

Lango says there several benefits to laser surgery. Most importantly, patients more often retain their ability to speak normally after cancer of the voice box, or larynx. Preserving the voice box is more difficult with conventional surgery for laryngeal tumors.

"For some patients, it isn't necessary to perform radical surgery," explains Lango. There's a benefit to the surgeons as well, she added.

"With laser surgery, we're able to remove sections of a tumor without excess bleeding. Less bleeding means better visualization of the tumor's margins. Since we can actually see the boundaries of the tumor, we able to remove less of the affected organ," Lango says another significant benefit of the laser is that the procedure can be done without the need for open surgery. "Often times, we can access the affected organ via the mouth. There isn't a need to break the jaw or split the lip if we can use this laser procedure."

But how does the laser fair in comparison to conventional surgery when it comes to survival? "Although the techniques have never been compared directly, some studies indicate that the laser is equal to the scalpel in terms of curative outcome," Lango says. "And clearly, the added benefit of preserving function and appearance together with the outstanding rehabilitation make this cancer management strategy superior."

Lango, an ear, nose and throat specialist, joined the department of surgical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in 2004. She is an expert in managing tumors of the upper aerodigestive tract and has a particular interest in tumors located at the skull base, sinonasal tract and thyroid. Lango's interests also include minimally invasive surgery of the larynx, including laser surgery for laryngeal cancer and laryngeal conservation surgery.

Before joining Fox Chase, Lango completed a fellowship in head and neck oncology and microvascular reconstruction at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to that, she completed her residency in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Lango received her bachelor's degree in English from Columbia University in 1989 and her M.D from New York University School of Medicine in 1996. She also studied the utility of molecular diagnostic techniques for head and neck cancer at Johns Hopkins University.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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