Reconstruction After Head and Neck Cancer

When any portion of the face – jaw, lips, cheeks, forehead, esophagus, nose or scalp – is affected by cancer and needs to be removed, it may be disfiguring for patients. One option is to develop a prosthesis, or artificial replacement. Siteman’s head and neck cancer team includes a prosthodontist, a dentist who specializes in making replacements for teeth and other facial structures.

Additionally, head and neck surgeons have led the development of methods for reconstructing tissues damaged by cancer – including pioneering techniques for reconstructing the tongue using a flap of skin and muscle from the forearm. The procedure, known as microvascular free-tissue transfer, allows creation of a structure that functions somewhat like a tongue and helps patients eat, chew, swallow and speak more normally following surgery. When the defect will be small and can be removed with minimally invasive techniques, the need for reconstruction is minimized. Patients are left with a relatively small wound that heals fairly quickly without additional tissue being required

When the cancer involves the mandible (lower jaw) or maxilla (upper jaw), removing cancerous bone can create a big bone defect and interfere with the appearance of the symmetry of the jaw. Surgeons take a 3-D CT scan to create a medical model that is used for surgical planning for reconstruction of the defect with grafted bone to make the jaw symmetrical.