This year, an estimated 4,300 Canadians will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer, a number that is on the rise, particularly for thyroid cancer and cancers of the tonsils and tongue base. Patients with the most advanced of these tumours come to Dr. Ian Witterick, otolaryngologist-in-chief at Mount Sinai Hospital, for care. When other treatment options fail, his renowned head and neck cancer team at Sinai Health System — including Dr. Jeremy Freeman, one of the most respected head and neck surgeons in North America and the Temmy Latner/
Dynacare Chair in Head and Neck Oncology — leads the way in complex surgeries that demand
the involvement of multiple experts.
Dr. Witterick specializes in the most difficult, advanced tumours of the face and neck, and his team performs some of the most intricate operations at Mount Sinai. During these intense 12-hour surgeries, Dr. Witterick and his team remove tumours from the mouth, throat or face, and reconstruct the affected area with tissue transplanted from another area of the body, typically borrowed from the patient’s calf or shoulder.
“We specialize in transplanting tissues from other parts of the body to reconstruct the jaw, face, inside of the mouth and tongue,” says Dr. Witterick. One surgeon removes the tumour while another prepares the transplant tissue in order to start the reconstruction seamlessly. “It’s a
collaboration between nurses and physicians — anesthesiologists and the ablative cancer surgeon and reconstructive surgeon who are all head and neck surgeons.”
Collaboration is key inside and outside the operating room. Once patients come out of surgery, recovery can be slow and isolating. Some patients remain in hospital for more than two to three weeks as they regain their ability to perform the most natural tasks: breathing, speaking, eating. Their rehabilitation requires a broad spectrum of ongoing care, and Sinai Health System will make it easier to support the unique needs of head and neck cancer patients as they heal. Dr. Witterick’s patients will now enter a system that supports them from diagnosis to renewed health without interruption, even as they reintegrate into their communities.
“We have built an incredible team of rehabilitation experts — nurses, dieticians, speech language pathologists, respiratory therapists, social workers — and I feel fortunate that we’ve got that sort of expertise,” says Dr. Witterick. “Having patients in a place like Bridgepoint that can care for their wounds and have occupational therapists getting them up and moving around and getting stronger, that will be a wonderful addition.”
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