Back to his full life thanks to innovative treatment

August 19, 2019
Joel Hinzman being hugged by wife and daughter

Joel Hinzman is a busy dad, husband and lobbyist who never expected to be diagnosed with tonsil cancer at age 46. The first sign of a problem was swelling on the left side of his neck that got worse and more painful, despite taking antibiotics. In seeking cancer treatment, one option that is part of a clinical study at GW Hospital stood out, based on Joel’s research. “It looked like it had great long-term outcomes and the best chance for minimum side effects over the long term,” he says. Maintaining his quality of life was important to him, and he wanted to enjoy healthy oral functioning when his treatment was done.

Game-changing care

The type of cancer Joel had was associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Traditionally, treatment in these cases has involved chemotherapy and radiation, says Director of Head and Neck Oncologic and Microvascular Reconstructive Surgery Arjun Joshi, MD, FACS, FRCS(C). However, patients in the clinical study receive chemotherapy and then robotic surgery, avoiding radiation and its potential lifelong side effects, such as dry mouth, changes in taste, dental disease and others.

Learn more about cancer care at the GW Cancer Center >

Within 48 hours of his first dose of chemotherapy, Joel noticed that the tumor on his neck was significantly smaller. By the end of the third treatment, the cancer was hard to find. He then underwent surgery to remove what tumor remained at the tonsil and in the lymph nodes in his neck. Pathology showed that the tumor at both sites had disappeared. He remains cancer-free more than two years after surgery. Also, he has no problems with taste or swallowing, and is grateful to have his normal oral functioning intact. “I had great care at GW Hospital and as an outpatient,” he says of his treatment led by Dr. Joshi and medical oncologist Robert Siegel, MD, Director of the Clinical Cancer Center. “I appreciated the fact that I was at a teaching hospital, with great residents coming in and checking on me regularly.”

Dr. Joshi says the clinical study is providing key evidence on a way to provide treatment with minimal side effects. “GW Hospital is at the forefront of changing the way we treat these HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers,” he says.

To treat head and neck cancers, GW Hospital offers the Medrobotics Flex® Robotic System.

This innovative technology is designed to navigate the body’s twists and turns and can provide a compelling resource for treating other conditions as well. Minimally invasive robotic surgery can reduce pain and trauma to the body, leading to a shorter hospital stay and a quicker recovery.

DID YOU KNOW it is estimated that about 3,400 new cases of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed in women and about 14,800 are diagnosed in men each year in the U.S.?*

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GW Cancer Center

Learn how one patient is now cancer free after participating in a clinical trial at GW Hospital >

*cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/headneck.htm