Our Program

The head and neck cancer team at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center builds strong relationships with patients to meet both the physical and emotional demands of fighting head and neck cancers. We work with our patients from diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation in treating tumors of the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, sinuses, lymph nodes and salivary glands. Dedicated to cancer of the head and neck, we offer a greater degree of specialization and therapies you may not find elsewhere. Board-certified specialists provide state-of-the-art care for comprehensive management of both benign and malignant tumors to allow you to take the remarkable possibilities of our specialized care to their fullest potential.

As specialists, we serve a high number of patients, giving you the benefit of our extensive experience. Many of our surgeons perform procedures that no one else in Southern California performs.

In our pursuit of advancing cancer surgery, we became the first on the west coast to offer Transoral Robotic Surgery (TORS) through the Head and Neck Cancer Program within the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, which allows for a minimally invasive approach that gives the surgeon enhanced dexterity and greater precision in tumor removal. This results in reduced pain and discomfort, reduced risk of infection and minimal scarring. Other advanced treatments include genomic-tailored therapy, immunotherapy, biological therapies, radiation oncology and lymphedema therapy. For more information about radiation oncology, click here.

Our Approach

We take an honest, straightforward approach to your care, providing as much accurate and relevant scientific evidence as possible. We want to empower you with understandable information for you to make informed decisions about your own health.

Our approach is carefully balanced, integrating clinical research and innovative programs that emphasize maintaining your quality of life, despite a cancer diagnosis. Our team of multidisciplinary experts from medical, surgical and radiation provide you with a comprehensive plan for treatment of your condition. Your team meets regularly to confer and apply their combined expertise to formulate an individualized treatment plan based on your personal circumstances.

When you have the advantage of care from a coordinated team, you’ll receive the latest treatments, see expert physicians, and benefit from attention to detail that helps reduce infections and complications. This team can make decisions moment to moment so that you don’t have to go from specialist to specialist for care.

Unique to our program is our strong focus on rehabilitation after treatment or surgery. We are the only center in the country that gives patients the ability to engage in swallow therapy exercises in the comfort of their own home for the treatment of esophageal strictures following radiation. We also offer unique rehabilitation therapy to restore the voices of laryngectomy patients (those who have had their voice boxes removed).

Conditions

The Head and Neck Cancer Program is known for an interdisciplinary approach with high expertise. Surgeons, radiation oncologists and other professionals at the program receive referrals nation- and often worldwide — treating cancers that aren’t treatable at most other medical facilities.

Some conditions we treat are listed below:

Neck lymphedema manifests in swelling of the neck. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as infection, or could be a sign of cancer. Lymphedema is a common, but treatable, side effect of cancer therapies.

Oral cancers are cancers that begin in the mouth, tongue, lips or other part of the oral cavity.

Salivary gland cancer describes abnormal growths that arise in the ducts that feed saliva into the oral cavity. The Head and Neck Cancer Program also treats rare salivary gland cancer, such as adenoid cystic carcinoma, or mucoepidermoid cancer.

Sinus tumors are tumors that arise in the sinuses, air-filled spaces around the nose and elsewhere in the face.

Throat cancer collectively describes cancers in the oral and nasal pharynx (the airway from the nose and mouth), the larynx (voice box), vocal cords and hypopharynx (an area just below the vocal cords).

Tumors of the nose, which are also known as nasal tumors, are cancers that begin in the nose and nasal passages.

Thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid gland, which helps control the body’s metabolism. There are several types of thyroid cancers.

Treatments

The highly specialized dedicated team at the Head and Neck Cancer Program represent a wide range of professional backgrounds, research interests and clinical expertise focused on cancers of the head and neck. Many of the innovative treatments offered through our program cannot be found at other medical centers. Each treatment plan will depend on your condition, overall health and the decisions of you and your treatment team.

3-D conformal radiotherapy (3-D CRT) allows precise delivery of high-energy x-ray beams to the disease site, while protecting normal tissues. The 3D conformal radiotherapy uses high-speed computers to extract CT/MRI data, perform three-dimensional calculations and overlay the data for the radiation oncologist’s and medical physicist’s analysis. This technique allows more accurate and conformal treatment.

Cancer genetics help determine if you have an inherited cancer, or are at risk for cancer. These cancers result from a genetic mutation that spurs the growth of many types of cancers throughout the body and a large number of cancers are inherited. Our counselors can determine a patient’s personal cancer genetics with testing.

Chemotherapy utilizes cancer-killing drugs that are injected into a vein or taken by mouth. Chemotherapy may be used with radiation (chemoradiation), with targeted therapy (biologic drug) to treat persistent, recurrent, or late-stage cancer, or as palliative therapy for advanced (metastatic) cancer.

CyberKnife® Stereotactic Radiosurgery is a non-invasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of tumors at multiple locations in the body.

Clinical brachytherapy utilizing high dose-rate (HDR) is the practice of placing radioactive material inside the body for the purpose of killing cancer cells. In low-dose rate brachytherapy, the radioactive material remains in the patient’s body and delivers radiation to the tumor over several days.

Immunotherapy uses drugs that work by overcoming the negative effects that cancer has on the immune system allowing the normal cells of the immune system to function better. Many of these drugs are offered on clinical trials at USC.

Lymphedema therapy is often a side effect of cancer therapies in the head and neck, which occurs when a backup of lymph fluids cause swelling. USC has physical therapists and other specialists who can treat lymphedema and reduce swelling.

Radiation oncology is a radiation therapy that can be targeted precisely to a tumor site, reducing side effects and improving recovery times. These techniques include:

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) is an advanced form of 3D Conformal Radiotherapy that allows higher and varying doses of radiation to the tumor while sparing healthy surrounding tissue. It is one of the most precise forms of external beam radiation therapy available.

RapidArc or VMAT treatment delivery is an advanced form of IMRT, which can deliver a precise dose of radiation in less than two minutes.

Surgery techniques in which a tumor is physically removed can be conducted on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Head and neck cancer surgeons within the Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery are able to remove tumors via transoral endoscopic surgery, robotic surgery and neck dissection.

Surgical reconstruction procedures to the head and neck can affect typical appearance and everyday function of those areas. USC head and neck and reconstruction surgeons have the expertise to restore swallowing, speech and other functions, as well as to reconstruct facial and neck structures. These include eyelid rejuvenation, forehead lift, chin surgery, ear surgery, nose reshaping, facelift and facial wrinkle treatments.

Targeted therapy utilizes biologically derived molecules that can be targeted against certain cancers. Therapies include cetuximab, a monoclonal antibody used against several different cancers in the head and neck. Our physicians are experienced in the use of sorafenib, cabozantinib, vandetinib and lenvatinib, which are pills that target the genes responsible for thyroid cancers. Comprehensive tumor genome profiling is available to understand the best options for targeted drug therapy of cancer. Many of the options at USC include clinical trials that pursue new drugs for the treatment of cancer.

Patient Information

One of the major advantages of coming to a cancer center is the multi-disciplinary expertise and range of services offered under one roof. These are doctors who collaborate to make the best decisions on a patient-to-patient and moment-to-moment basis

The dedicated team will provide you with the information and resources you need, and empower you to be a part of your personalized care. Your decisions will be a key part of your treatment and cancer management plan.

Depending on your symptoms and conditions, you will receive advanced imaging for diagnosis, and then a comprehensive evaluation that may involve more than one specialist. Your treatment may be a “watch and wait” scenario, a visit to a clinic, a one-day radiation or surgical intervention, or a longer stay in the hospital. Your team will discuss with you the best options you have available.

Patient Resources

There are a number of online local, national and international resources to learn more about urological cancers. In addition, USC hosts patient support groups for a number of conditions; you can check with your team members about a support group that is appropriate for you.

American Cancer Society
cancer.org

American Society for Clinical Oncology
cancer.net

National Cancer Institute
cancer.gov

Patient Outreach and Community Center
The outreach and community center is a modern facility with print and electronic cancer education and resource materials devoted to patients, their families and community members seeking information on cancer. Learn more about the center here: http://uscnorriscancer.usc.edu/patient_care/peoc/

Clinical Trials

Patients have the option of taking part in clinical trials being conducted at Keck Medical Center of USC. While clinical trial participation does not ensure that an effective treatment will be received, participation does help provide invaluable information for future treatments, and possibly a cure in the future. http://clinicaltrials.keckmedicine.org.

Our Physicians

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Practicing Locations

Keck Hospital of USC
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Practicing Locations

Keck Hospital of USC
USC Healthcare Center 4
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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Practicing Locations

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Keck Hospital of USC
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Practicing Locations

Keck Medicine of USC - Pasadena
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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Practicing Locations

LAC+USC Medical Center
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital
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Practicing Locations

USC Healthcare Center 4
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Practicing Locations

Keck Hospital of USC
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital

Specializing In

Oral Cancer, Throat Cancer, Larynx Cancer, Skull Base Surgery, Salivary Gland Tumors, Transoral Robotic Surgery (TORS), and Microvascular Reconstruction