Cancer-free on Capitol Hill
Choosing ‘quality of life,’ U.S. Representative Sanford Bishop takes the road less traveled in treatment for oral cancer.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga., 2nd District) is regarded as highly proactive for causes he believes in, such as advocating for veterans and Georgia’s farmers.
Last fall, when Rep. Bishop found a small lump in his neck, his inclination toward action urged a consult with Nader Sadeghi, MD, FRCSC, Director of Head and Neck Surgery at the George Washington University Hospital and Professor of Surgery. Diagnosed immediately with a base of tongue squamous cell cancer that had spread to his lymph node, he wasted no time in committing to a new treatment called transoral robotic surgery with neck dissection.
“I decided against a second opinion, because few other surgeons are using this protocol,” says Rep. Bishop. “I would have had to wait weeks or months, and I wanted to start immediately.”
GW Hospital was the first in the region to use robotics as a departure from “big surgery” for oral cancer – which can involve splitting the jaw, taking out the tongue and massive reconstruction. The GW Hospital program is the only one in the country to apply this surgical technique and, at the same time, eliminate radiation, which is standard treatment for advanced throat cancer following surgery. The new solution is “10 times less invasive than the traditional surgery, and avoids radiation altogether,” says Dr. Sadeghi.
Treatment starts with three doses of chemotherapy drugs at three-week intervals. The objective is to shrink the tumors “like butter under hot water,” says Robert Siegel, MD, Director of the Division of Hematology/Oncology and Professor of Medicine. “It’s surprising how many people respond well, and nobody we’ve treated so far has had a recurrence.”
The surgery that follows is conducted in two stages. First, the area of the tumor is carved out robotically, without the “gaping hole” necessary in the traditional technique. Second, the neck is dissected with a separate incision to remove any cancer left in the lymph nodes. “Before, the patient would be in intensive care for about seven days. Now, it’s more like two,” says Dr. Sadeghi. “This protocol spares the organs of the head and neck from all short-term and lifelong side effects of radiotherapy, and it reduces the chances of the tumor spreading.”
These bottom-line benefits align with the hospital’s overall philosophy. “We aim for results equal to the standard therapy while eliminating negative side effects,” says Anton Sidawy, MD, MPH, Professor and Lewis B. Saltz Chair of the Department of Surgery. “We’re excited about this technique, and the results so far have been positive.”
The positives are multiplying for Rep. Bishop, who hardly missed a beat on the “Hill” and got his golf swing back three weeks after surgery. “I was very impressed by where GW’s surgeons and physicians placed their emphasis,” says Rep. Bishop. “They let me know that all the treatments can cure the disease, but the best possible outcome is good quality of life after the cancer is gone.”
“Thanks to great cooperation among my medical team at the Capitol, the George Washington University Hospital medical team and our great staff, [my surgery and treatment] were accomplished without me having to miss a single vote and without any major event for the office going uncovered!”
– Rep. Sanford Bishop