The current treatment of head and neck cancer involved a combination of certain drugs, surgeries, and chemotherapies. however, the patient survival rate is approximately 50%, due sometimes to the inherent difficulty of the location of these cancerous tumors. However, new advances in genetic testing and surgical procedures have begun to improve success rates for patients. Our Department of Otolaryngology has always been considered the gold standard for surgery in head and neck cancers, and we are expanding our efforts to treat patients with cancers of the head and neck by taking a personalized medicine approach. By identifying genetic components of head and neck cancers, their response rates to specific treatment plans, and investigating genetic markers to understand an individual’s genetics and their probably response to certain treatments, we are working to provide each patient with the greatest chance at survival and the highest possible quality of life.

Because of the multiple problematic side effects that present after head and neck cancer (HNC) treatment, UPMC established the UPMC Survivorship Clinic for Head and Neck Cancer in 2016. The goal is to address the problem of fragmented care that survivors receive by facilitating communication, with the patients themselves, with their families, as well as with the patients’ current team of providers, in order to provide the patient with a comprehensive plan to continue living a healthy, happy life after cancer. The mission of the UPMC Survivorship Clinic is to identify and treat unmet needs among HNC survivors.

Patients evaluated in the Survivorship clinic report, on average, 3 problems that are related to their cancer treatment, the most frequent being difficulty swallowing, neck pain and symptoms of anxiety and depression. The effective management of these symptoms requires the knowledge and training of several specialty clinicians. The Survivorship team consists of a HNC physician, a survivorship nurse, a swallowing specialist, an audiologist, a dentist, a physical therapist, and a behavioral health specialist. Patients need only make one appointment to see our entire team of specialists, and each provider gives them personalized instruction about what care to seek and what treatments to begin in order to address symptoms. To reduce one of the most prevalent side effects of cancer treatment and post-treatment care, financial toxicity, Survivorship clinic visits are only billed as one provider visit.

Components of UPMC Survivorship Care

  • Prevention and detection of new cancers and recurrent cancer
  • Surveillance for recurrence or new primaries
  • Interventions for long-term and late effects from cancer and its therapies
  • Coordination between specialists and primary care providers to ensure that all of the survivor’s needs are met

For more information, visit The Marian Mosites Initiative for Personalized Medicine in Head and Neck Cancer Research.

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