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Lip and Oral (Mouth) Cancer Treatment

Penn Head and Neck Cancer is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Penn Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) and the Abramson Cancer Center with experts that have pioneered the latest treatments for mouth cancer. Our modern, minimally invasive surgical techniques enable surgeons to remove tumors of the mouth and perform facial reconstruction while avoiding the side effects of traditional head and neck surgery.

After surgery, patients may need speech and swallowing rehabilitation. Our speech pathology team works closely with individuals following their head and neck cancer treatment. Our services include a state-of-the-art swallowing function laboratory as well as specialized experts who help patients regain the ability to speak post-treatment.

Treating Mouth Cancer with Surgery

Mouth cancers are most commonly treated with surgery. Surgery can involve removal of the cancer and/or reconstructive surgery. Penn Head and Neck surgeons use the latest advancements in surgical techniques — TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS), microvascular free flap reconstruction and virtual surgical planning (VSP).

Treating Mouth Cancer with TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS)

Bert W. O'Malley, Jr., MD, and Gregory S. Weinstein, MD, director of the Penn Center for Head and Neck Cancer, pioneered TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS). TORS is the world's first minimally invasive robotic surgery technique that enables surgeons to remove benign and malignant tumors of the mouth and throat.  

There are many benefits of TORS for patients:

  • TORS allows individuals with throat cancer to avoid radiation therapy altogether or decreases the intensity, avoiding side effects of treatment. Following TORS, about 605 of patients are able to avoid both radiation and chemotherapy. The remaining 40 percent are able to undergo a significantly reduced amount of radiation therapy.
  • Quicker return to normal activity
  • Shorter hospitalization
  • Reduced risk of long-term swallowing problems (most commonly seen with chemo-radiation or traditional open surgery)
  • Fewer complications compared to traditional open surgery
  • Less scarring than traditional open surgery
  • Less risk of infection
  • Less risk of blood transfusion when compared to open surgery

Other treatments for mouth cancer may include a combination of TORS with either chemotherapy or radiation.

Treating Mouth Cancer with Microvascular Reconstruction Using Virtual Surgical Planning

Facial reconstruction may be necessary after tumors of the mouth have been removed. Penn's board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons have extensive experience performing microvascular free flap reconstruction

Microvascular reconstructive surgery is performed, using tissues from the forearm, thigh, leg, chest and shoulder to rebuild the jaw, tongue and floor of the mouth. For tongue cancer, surgeons use free flaps from the forearm or the thigh to reconstruct the tongue in order to preserve speech and swallowing. For jaw and gum cancers virtual surgical planning (VSP) is used. VSP is an advanced technology using computer simulation to show how to take bones from the leg, including the fibula to create a new jaw.

Difference in Treatment Based on Type of Mouth Cancer

Your treatment plan will depend on the type of mouth cancer you have. The most common type of mouth cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Other types are minor salivary gland cancers, mucosal melanoma, lymphoma and sarcoma.