Q&A: John A. Ridge, MD, PhD, FACS

Ridge-DrewSince joining Fox Chase in 1991 as chief of head and neck surgery, John A. Ridge has been dedicated to developing treatments and surgical techniques that cure head and neck cancers while allowing patients to maintain a high quality of life. Nationally recognized, Ridge focuses his clinical practice on head and neck and endocrine tumors, including nonsurgical management, organ preservation, new surgical techniques, and early and advanced thyroid tumors. As a co-chair of the National Cancer Institute’s Head and Neck Cancer Steering Committee, he helps coordinate and direct federally funded clinical research in the field, setting the agenda for the next decade’s clinical trials.

Recently, Ridge was named associate director for the Temple Head and Neck Institute, a newly launched comprehensive program that brings together physicians and medical professionals from across Temple Health to provide patient care and expand research and educational opportunities in head and neck diseases.

Q: How will patients benefit from the Temple Head and Neck Institute?

A: At Fox Chase we’re accustomed to thinking in terms of tumors, mostly cancers. But there are many other head and neck problems, including things like hearing and balance and voice disorders. One of the exciting things about the Institute is our ability to provide support to other clinical programs. A patient may come in with hoarseness and turn out to have a voice box cancer, so a referral to a Fox Chase cancer specialist would be appropriate. And similarly, patients we are treating for cancer may develop a voice disorder and benefit from seeing a specialist in benign voice problems.

Q: How does this differ from how treatment was previously handled?

A: This makes it easier. In the past, Fox Chase head and neck specialists were subspecialized oncologists. Now we have ready collaboration with other head and neck specialists, such as otolaryngologists, audiologists, and speech-language pathologists, who can handle other treatment-related problems.

Q: Is there something about head and neck conditions or cancers that makes a comprehensive organization sensible?

A: Integration among head and neck specialists is very easy because we have few turf battles. If you were to try and set up a genitourinary institute, you’d have many kinds of kidney specialists, such as transplant doctors and nephrologists—all of whom have potential conflicts with the urologists who are surgical specialists in the genitourinary tract per se. We don’t really have that problem.

Q: What’s new in head and neck research and treatment at Fox Chase?

A: In robotic surgery we have been able to remove throat cancers through the mouth, rather than making cuts and opening the throat. Recovery is far easier and hospitalization time shorter. The head and neck program is also engaged in exciting new research to understand how cancers caused by viruses affect different populations or groups of patients. People of African origin seem to have different disease patterns for throat cancers than Caucasians. With the Head and Neck Institute, system-wide collaboration makes it easier to compare different groups of patients than it would have been at the individual hospitals when we weren’t working together.

Q: Looking ahead, what are the most important issues in head and neck cancer that Fox Chase is looking to address in the next five years?

A: Care for survivors, those patients living beyond cancer, is very important. We should be trying to cure as many patients as possible, while providing all of them with the best possible quality of life. The diseases affect people’s ability to eat and talk. Some of the most important quality-of-life issues in cancer care can be found in head and neck.