Mayo Clinic Q&A

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Episodes Advances in oral cancer treatment, reconstruction

Man getting a dental checkup

Advances in oral cancer treatment, reconstruction
April 26, 2022

Oral cancer refers to cancers that originate in the mouth, tongue and back of the throat. Treatment options, which can vary based on the cancer's location and stage, include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The use of anatomic modeling and 3D printing have led to advances in surgical treatments for oral cancer.

"One of the advances that we've seen in the last 20 or 30 years in the treatment of head and neck cancers certainly has to do with the reconstruction," says Dr. Kevin Arce, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Mayo Clinic. "Often, we have to remove not only the cancer, but also the surrounding tissue that is normal. And to replace that can be quite challenging. We now have better abilities to reconstruct the structures that have been lost." 

Dr. Arce explains advances in the treatment of head and neck cancers now allow surgeons to bring in tissues from different areas of the body and reconstruct a tongue or rebuild a jaw. And the anatomical lab and 3D printing allow surgeons to perform patient-specific reconstruction that helps maintain function. 

"With these advancements, patients can obviously not only look the same, but speak and eat as they did prior to the surgery," says Dr. Arce. "At Mayo Clinic, we can do that all in house. We have a group of neuroradiologists and biomedical engineers who are a part of the institution, and we collaborate with them in these types of reconstructions."

Early detection of oral cancer can lead to better treatment options and outcomes. 

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, aimed at reminding the public about the steps to take to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. The two main risk factors are tobacco and alcohol use.

"Awareness of oral cancer is important," says Dr. Arce. "It's important to maintain that relationship with either your dentist or your primary care physician so they do at least an annual screen of the oral cavity to make sure that there is nothing unusual or a lesion that needs more attention."

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Arce discusses oral cancer treatment and prevention.