Imagine you’re a 21-year-old college student and engaged to be married. You’re in the prime of your life and ready for the next adventure.
Now imagine you’re that same 21-year-old student, but you’ve just been diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of throat cancer.
This is the diagnosis Kyle Hansen heard following routine removal of a polyp in his throat. How do you process this sudden and unexpected information?
In Kyle’s case, this bioengineering major attacked the problem by expanding his understanding and knowledge of treatment options. Just as important, he committed to positively and optimistically attacking this life-changing challenge.
One of the first facts Kyle discovered is that synovial sarcoma is difficult to treat and responds poorly to radiation therapy. As a result, the most common treatment for this cancer is an open surgical procedure where doctors remove the cancer from the throat.
The treatment often proves successful yet it features one significant drawback: the surgeon is forced to perform a total laryngectomy. Put simply, the patient often loses his or her voice box in the process.
Now imagine you’re 21-years-old and you’ve lost the ability to speak–for the rest of your life.
“If I chose the open procedure I would have required a tracheotomy—the hole in the throat most often seen in former smokers on TV commercials,” said Hansen. “I would have had to find other means of speech. That would have been extremely challenging because speech is so important in being able to communicate with others.”
Da Vinci Robotic Surgery Offers Voice-Saving Outcome
Fortunately for Hansen, another viable option offered the promise of successfully removing the cancer while allowing him to maintain his ability to speak normally.
The procedure relied on the da Vinci robotic surgery system and Hansen was referred to a local Salt Lake City ear, nose and throat doctor, Dr. Pramod Sharma, who is trained to operate the complex system and perform the surgery.
“The da Vinci Surgical System enables surgeons to perform the minimally invasive transoral (throat) procedure with great precision and accuracy,” said Dr. Sharma who is a partner with the Ear, Nose and Throat Center of Salt Lake City. “Surgeons are able to isolate and remove cancerous tissue with minimal impact to the patient.”
Not surprisingly, Hansen opted for the da Vinci surgical procedure since it offered the greatest likelihood of being able to preserve his voice box and ability to speak.
“The da Vinci robotic procedure was definitely the most appealing option because it allowed me to keep my voice,” Hansen continued. “For me, that shred of hope and the chance to have a normal life post-surgery was completely worth any risks.”
Those risks included the fact that due to the spread of cancer, surgeons are sometimes forced to remove the voice box during surgery–even when using the da Vinci system.
“I was told that if Dr. Sharma could not remove all the cancerous tissue, there would still be a chance that I would need to have an open procedure during the surgery,” Hansen recalled. “So I went into surgery without knowing the outcome and had to place my faith and confidence in Dr. Sharma. Luckily, the da Vinci system allowed him to remove the necessary tissue to feel comfortable that open throat surgery was not necessary.”
Cancer-Free One Year Later
The procedure was effective and Hansen emerged from the hospital cancer-free 28 days after surgery.
He returned to the University of Utah during the fall and continues his studies today. His voice has taken about one year to fully recover.
“In terms of strength and loudness, my voice is about 90-percent of its pre-surgery levels,” Hansen said in a raspy but clear voice. “There is a little more texture to my voice, but it basically sounds the same as it did before surgery.”
In May 2012, Hansen is celebrating his first year of recovery without recurrence of cancer symptoms. If he can reach five years without the cancer reappearing, he will be considered a full cancer survivor.
Hansen Celebrates and Enjoys Each Day as a Gift
“My wife and I are expecting our first child this summer and I plan to be a father and a husband, no different than I was before,” Hansen said. “I was able to resume school at the University of Utah the fall after the surgery where I’m studying bioengineering and hope to one day design medical devices that can help treat people with illnesses.”
It’s a positive success story and testament to the way new treatments and medical devices like the da Vinci Surgical System are saving lives and providing a higher quality of life for cancer patients.
About Dr. Sharma
Dr. Pramod Sharma is an ear, nose and throat doctor in Salt Lake City who practices at the Ear, Nose and Throat Center offices in Salt Lake City and Draper, Utah. Dr. Sharma received his MD from the State University of New York at Buffalo and completed a residency in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Cincinnati. He obtained specialized training at the Ohio State University with a Head and Neck Surgical Oncology fellowship. He is one of a small number of ENT doctors in Utah trained to use the da Vinci robotic surgery system.