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Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Perfected at Barnes-Jewish Hospital

  • June 8, 2011
  • Number of views: 799

“Cancer is Daunting. Missing a Diagnosis is Worse.”

After completing a long trial, attorney Al Watkins and his family went to Florida for a spring vacation. While there, he noticed the gland under his jaw was swollen and decided to visit his primary care physician after his return.

Al spent the rest of spring and much of summer visiting with his doctor and specialists. He tried antibiotics, which proved unsuccessful, and had biopsies on his gland, with inconclusive results.

“After my fifth biopsy, the doctor set down his instrument and sighed,” Al recalls. “Then he recommended that I seek treatment at Barnes-Jewish Hospital from Dr. Bruce Haughey.”

On his first visit, Dr. Haughey diagnosed Al with tonsil cancer. “Being diagnosed with cancer is daunting,” Al says. “But missing a diagnosis is worse. In St. Louis we have in our backyard—and for worldwide consumption—Siteman, one of the top cancer centers. I am
eternally grateful that I made it to Siteman and received my treatment from Dr. Haughey.”

Gold Standard Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer Perfected at Siteman

Today, some cancer centers still offer traditional open surgery (in which incisions are made on the face and neck and the skeletal structure is taken apart to remove growths) as the primary treatment option for head and neck cancers. Al was especially grateful that the
Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine offered transoral laser microsurgery (TLM), an alternative operation with minimal incisions.

“TLM is now catching on as the gold standard nationwide because it has such great outcomes for patients, with extremely low side effects compared to open surgery,” Dr. Haughey says. “At Siteman, we began offering it in 1996 and have benefited more than 500 patients.”

Today, Siteman is a nationally recognized center for teaching TLM to other physicians. This annual transoral course is convened by Dr. Haughey.

“When you have a teaching course it has a big ripple effect. We teach surgeons around the country to use these techniques, their patients then receive this new, optimal treatment and surgeons share their knowledge with their teams,” Dr. Haughey says.

While the traditional open surgery could leave patients with altered ability to swallow and speak, as well as considerable scarring on the head and neck, TLM has very minimal lasting side effects.

“My recovery occurred almost immediately. The long-lasting effects are virtually negligible,” says Al, whose career as a lawyer relies heavily on his ability to communicate without distraction. “We have to let the world know about Dr. Haughey. The more surgeons he’s able to
educate, the faster this highly advanced treatment will become the norm for our friends and family around the country. For those that can support Dr. Haughey—it’s our duty.”

Elite Care from a Doctor with a “Twinkle in His Eye”

A striking number of Dr. Haughey’s patients are referred to him from other hospitals that, despite their best efforts, can’t diagnose their patients’ head and neck cancers. Al is one example. Larry Keyes is another.

Larry remembers being told repeatedly that the growth on his temple was a harmless basal cell carcinoma. It was actually an invasive squamous cell carcinoma that had spread through layers of tissue, reaching his skull. Shortly after his treatment, it was discovered that his cancer had spread to nodes in his parotid gland (beneath the ear).

“I moved my care to Siteman. When I met Dr. Haughey, he immediately gave me confidence,” says Larry. “He’s also gentle and he has a twinkle in his eye. He’s a very special person.”

Because Larry wanted to do something for the doctor who saved his life, he made a bequest that will support Dr. Haughey’s research.

“I have great admiration for the guy,” Larry says. “I’ve told friends that I dodged a silver bullet because I had the right doctor.”

The Best Personalized Treatment for Each Patient

Rick Glassman received treatment from Dr. Haughey for a tumor in his throat before TLM was available.

“I have total and complete trust in him,” says Rick, who discussed all of the possible treatment options with Dr. Haughey before they decided that radiation and chemotherapy were the best treatment for him. Dr. Haughey says that, “Despite the advantages and growing use of TLM, it is crucial to find the best personalized treatment option for each patient.”

At Siteman, Dr. Haughey serves on a multi-disciplinary team that carefully reviews each patient’s diagnosis, in order to determine if traditional protocols or advanced techniques, such as TLM, would be most beneficial for the patient.

To continuously perfect personalized treatment options, health care professionals devote time to research. Dr. Haughey’s research includes performing TLM with the assistance of a robot. For this treatment option, he sits at a nearby computer console, controlling the robot’s arms, which are smaller and give easier access to confined spaces than performing the procedure directly by hand. He will be comparing outcomes of patients who receive TLM with and without the assistance of the robot so that future patients will benefit from receiving the surgery option with the best possible outcome.

“The support we get from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation makes this research possible, and it’s critical because often these ‘pilot’ projects are not yet at the stage needed to secure funding by larger organizations like the National Cancer Institute. But the data are crucial,” Dr. Haughey says.

Since his treatment, life has been uneventful for Rick. He is grateful to have survived cancer “unscathed and with no aftereffects whatsoever.”

“Cancer was a game changer for me. After my diagnosis I decided to change my focus from business to my family,” Rick says.

Rick welcomed his first grandchild in February of this year. In honor of such special moments with his family, Rick makes charitable gifts to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation to support Dr. Haughey’s research.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to support Dr. Haughey because he is saving lives and improving the quality of life for individuals faced with head and neck cancers,” Rick says.

To support head and neck cancer research like Dr. Haughey's, please give to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Richard and Judith Glassman Fund for Head and Neck Cancer Research (#7292) by using our online giving form

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