Oropharynx Cancer Clinic in Minnesota Overview

Mayo Clinic head and neck cancer surgeons consult using a 3D model to help plan a surgery.

People who come to Mayo Clinic with throat (oropharyngeal) cancer are treated by a multidisciplinary team of experts. This cancer affects the back of the mouth, where the base of the tongue, the soft palate and the throat meet.

At the Oropharynx Cancer Clinic at Mayo Clinic's campus in Rochester, Minnesota, you receive comprehensive care for the diagnosis and treatment of your condition, with access to dietary and nutritional counseling, leading-edge cancer treatment, reconstructive surgery, follow-up care, rehabilitation, and palliative care services.

Advanced treatment options

A Mayo Clinic throat cancer exam

At the Oropharynx Cancer Clinic, you meet with doctors who use the latest technology and techniques to treat throat cancer. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation or a combination of these approaches.

  • Surgery. The type of surgery depends on the size, type, location and depth of the tumor. Nearby lymph nodes may need to be removed and examined to determine how far the cancer has spread. Mayo Clinic head and neck surgeons are skilled at using minimally invasive surgery techniques, including transoral robotic surgery.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams of radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation may be used alone, or it may be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might remain. Radiation oncologists at Mayo Clinic use advanced treatment technologies, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and proton therapy, to target cancer cells and spare nearby healthy tissue.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. For people with throat cancer, chemotherapy is often used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might remain. Sometimes it's combined with radiation therapy.

    At Mayo Clinic, experienced medical oncologists select the chemotherapy drugs that are most likely to be effective against your cancer cells. Your care team helps you manage side effects of treatment.

  • Reconstructive surgery. Depending on the size, location and spread of the cancer, some people may need reconstructive surgery to restore mouth function. Doctors at Mayo Clinic are skilled in using the latest techniques in reconstructive surgery to restore your ability to speak and eat after surgery.
  • Rehabilitation. Rehabilitation specialists in speech therapy, swallowing therapy, dietetics, physical therapy and occupational therapy help with rehabilitation that may be necessary after surgery or radiation therapy. The Nicotine Dependence Center at Mayo Clinic can help if you're trying to stop using tobacco.

Head and neck 3D printing for reconstruction

Jonathan M. Morris, M.D.:

There's really no hospital system that has built as much infrastructure around 3D printing as Mayo has. We've done a lot of studies in the field of head and neck cancer and 3D printing and how they're complementary. Some of those complementary studies just show better understanding of the patient's specific anatomy before entering the operating room. With patient-specific virtual surgical planning and cutting guides, you can save up to 2 hours in the operating room, which means less time for a patient under anesthesia. And we get a better outcome because of all the design ahead of time. We've developed a specialty called point-of-care manufacturing.

All the manufacturing as the physicians inside the hospital, so there's no translation needed. We go from CT scan to three-dimensional model of complex cancer in every area of the body, but particularly in head and neck, quite seamlessly. We're combining surgery, biomedical engineering and radiology all in one place to create not just the 3D printed models, but also the virtual surgical planning.

We take the imaging with the patient's anatomy and tumor and vascularity, and then we print those out in a life-size three-dimensional way and give them to the surgeon as kind of a roadmap.

Daniel L. Price, M.D.:

We're all used to looking at two-dimensional images of patients and CT scans and MRIs. And 3D modeling takes that 2D image and turns it into something that you can hold in your hands and really understand what's the patient's anatomy. Having guides that are custom fit to their jaw, to their bone that we're taking from another part of their body to reconstruct them so that we can get perfect bone-to-bone contact and make them look as much like they did prior to ever having a cancer diagnosis.

But you really have to get it perfect the first time.

We have the opportunity to practice, plan and make it perfect on a computer before we ever get to the operating room. We found that patients had less complications long term when we use 3D modeling. They were less likely to have a plate break, and they were less likely to have that bone fracture or nonunion when we use 3D modeling.

Dr. Morris:

Another advantage is patient consent. When you let the patient hold their own skull or their own mandible or their own tumor in their hands, then you can start using the model as a communication vehicle. Mayo Clinic is an integrated multidisciplinary team. So instead of just surgeon and neuroradiologists meeting to discuss cases, now we have surgeon, neuroradiologist, biomedical engineers, and 3D printing capabilities all in the same care team.

Dr. Price:

We excel at complex patient care. And I think that's where our efficiency and the expertise of all of our colleagues to take care of those complex patients really comes into play.

Your treatment team

Doctors specializing in otolaryngology, oncology and radiation oncology work together to individualize your treatment plan.

Our ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists work with medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, and rehabilitation medicine specialists to provide comprehensive care. Other professionals are included as needed. Your Mayo Clinic doctors also coordinate access to the patient education center and palliative care services.

At the Oropharynx Cancer Clinic, a multidisciplinary team of experts works together so that you get exactly the care you need. And the team's collaborative approach to care means efficient care. In many cases, people are evaluated and have surgery scheduled the same week.

Throat cancer specialists on your care team also are committed to doing research that improves treatment and reduces side effects.

See physician staff

April 27, 2023