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What reconstruction occurs following treatment for head and neck cancer?

Brett Miles, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)

The appropriate reconstruction after undergoing surgery for head and neck cancer is determined by the amount, location, and type of tissue affected by the malignancy. Some cases are reconstructed with local tissues, some with tissues from the nearby region, and some with tissues transferred from distant sites. The type of reconstruction required varies widely so a discussion with your head and neck and/or reconstructive surgeon is paramount to understand the challenges particular to your situation.

Reconstruction following treatment of head and neck cancer may require transfer of tissues from another area of the body to the defect.   Below are some common reconstructions and the tissue required to reconstruct them:
  • Mandible - commonly reconstructed with a vascularize bone flap from the leg (fibula) but also reconstructed with vascularized bone flaps from the hip or forearm or with bone grafting alone (depending upon the appropriateness of the defect)
  • Tongue - based upon the size of the defect and the donor tissue, this may require skin grafting, tissue transfer from within the mouth, or transfer for tissue from the forearm (radial forearm flap) or thigh (anterolateral thigh flap)
  • Oropharynx and/or superior segment of the esophagus - this is commonly reconstructed with transfer of tissue from the thigh or the forearm (if reconstructing a portion of the esophagus, the flap of tissue is tubed so that the skin is the inside of the tube to allow for passage of a food bolus from the mouth to the stomach)
Other areas may require reconstruction, such as the lining of the mouth, the facial nerve, or other areas of face.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.