Q&A With Nationally-recognized Head and Neck Physicians

Best Hospitals National Ear, Nose & Throat 2017-2018

The esteemed group of cancer specialists at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center’s Head and Neck Center recently welcomed otolaryngologists Dr. Ashley Mays and Dr. Larissa Sweeny. These physicians are the newest additions to the renowned group of experts whose work earned the U.S. News & World Report as a top 50 provider for Ear, Nose and Throat for 2017-2018 out of more than 4,500 medical centers evaluated in the U.S. Both Dr. Mays and Dr. Sweeny received special training in advanced head and neck surgical oncology and microvascular reconstruction.

When should you see a head and neck specialist?

Dr. Larissa Sweeny

“Patients may present with a mass or lump in their neck,” explains Dr. Sweeny. “Or they may notice changes in their voice, have persistent ear pain, or have trouble swallowing. If these symptoms go unresolved after six weeks of treatment by your primary care physician, we recommend you see a specialist.”

What are common causes of head and neck cancer?

“Traditionally, cancers of the head and neck stemmed from smoking, oral tobacco or alcohol use, but more and more people are developing cancer based on the HPV virus,” says Dr. Mays. “Because the virus stays in a person’s system many years before they develop symptoms, it never goes away, and slowly changes cells and causes them to become cancer later down the line.”

Dr. Sweeny cites that the connection between HPV and head and neck cancer is currently considered an epidemic due to its exponential rise every year.

How are cancers of the head and neck treated?

“When patients are candidates for surgery, our goal is to remove all of the cancer during the operation,” says Dr. Sweeny. “One of the benefits of being treated at the Cancer Center is that our facility is able to offer robotic surgery for patients with certain head and neck cancers, which allows for better swallowing function after therapy, a shorter operation, and fewer cosmetic irregularities.”

Can head and neck cancer be prevented?

Dr. Ashley Mays

“The majority of head and neck cancer is from smoking and alcohol abuse. The best thing a patient can do to reduce their risk of cancer and to improve their prognosis if diagnosed with cancer is to stop smoking. There is also a subset of head and neck cancers associated with the HPV virus,” says Dr. Sweeny. “Recently, the FDA approved the three-shot HPV vaccination series to help prevent HPV infection for anyone up to the age of 45.”

Why did you choose to practice at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center?

“The Cancer Center gives me the wonderful opportunity to do everything I had been trained to do,” said Dr. Mays of her decision to join the Cancer Center following a two-year fellowship at M.D. Anderson. “I’m grateful to be able to provide a wide spectrum of services to the patients at such a great place.”