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Team is the heart of the Head and Neck Center

Annual Report - Winter 2014

By Julie Penne

Treating cancer while preserving form and function.

Enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with family.
Hearing a child’s uncontrollable laughter.
Taking part in a lively book club discussion.
Posing for a photograph with glowing confidence. 

These are simple joys that require senses, functions and structures that can be taken for granted. But to the team in MD Anderson’s Head and Neck Center, they’re always cherished.

Jan Lewin, Ph.D., and Randal Weber, M.D.
Photographer: Wyatt McSpadden

It’s a mindset that has been ingrained since the 1950s, when the institution led research that refined surgery, radiation oncology and chemotherapy for cancers of the throat, larynx, nasal cavity, thyroid, salivary glands and oral cavity. Even then, when treatment was focused mainly on removing the cancer, 
MD Anderson researchers explored ways to preserve a patient’s appearance and ability to swallow, speak, hear and chew.

That culture is one of the many reasons the Head and Neck Center has been consistently ranked in the top 12 nationally by U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Hospitals” survey since 1992. The service also is ranked in the broad surgical specialty of ear, nose and throat — not just cancer — and in 2013 was rated third in the country.

Randal Weber, M.D., chair of Head and Neck Surgery, says that, like so many departments and clinics at MD Anderson, a team approach is the core of the center’s strength.

“We have now — and always have had — the best surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, nurses and midlevel providers, who work alongside the best specialists in rehabilitation, speech pathology, dentistry and plastic surgery,” Weber says. “Our team takes great pride in our legacy and reputation, but we also know that we have to uphold both every day, with every patient.”

Jan Lewin, Ph.D., professor in Head and Neck Surgery and section chief of Speech Pathology and Audiology, leads a group of 25 professionals that provides integral services to help patients recover, as much as possible, the capabilities they had before treatment. The multidisciplinary team’s programs are applied early in the process.

“It’s just not acceptable to cure patients of their disease and leave them disabled,” Lewin says. “Treatments have advanced so much, but because of HPV and its relationship to head and neck cancers, we’re seeing many more patients being diagnosed, and they’re younger. We must continue to think ahead and help restore our patients’ quality of life as much as we can.”

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center