Surgery and Rehabilitation to Treat Head and Neck Cancer

Your cancer care team will diagnose and evaluate your head and neck cancer. After evaluating the type and stage of head and neck cancer, they may decide that surgery is the best treatment option. If the cancer care team selects surgery as the best treatment option, the treatment goals will be to remove as much of the cancer as possible in addition to preserving form and function of surrounding anatomic structures. If surrounding anatomic structures are damaged during the removal of the tumour, reconstructive surgery will be performed to restore the structure, function and cosmetic appearance of the structures that were removed. For example, if there is missing tissue as a result of the surgery to remove the tumour, donor tissue can be transferred from another location, such as the leg or forearm, to replace it.

Navigating types of head and neck cancer surgeries

Learn about cancer removal surgeries, reconstructive surgeries and surgeries to aid breathing and eating on the additional pages in the Resources section.

Ablative Surgeries

This section reviews the various types of procedures a surgeon may perform to remove head and neck tumours, such as a glossectomy (removal of a portion of or the entire tongue), laryngectomy (removal of a portion of or the entire voice box) and mandibulectomy (removal of a portion of or the entire jawbone).

Reconstructive Surgery

This section reviews procedures a surgeon will perform to restore form and function after removal of tissue for the treatment of the tumour. For example, free flap surgery is the transfer of tissue with an artery and vein from one part of the body to another. Another procedure a surgeon can perform to return form and function is nerve grafting (attaching the ends of nerves together to reinnervate a denervated muscle or gland).

Surgeries to Aid Breathing and Eating

This section discusses surgeries that are performed to help head and neck cancer patients eat, such as the placement of feeding tubes or performing a tracheotomy to facilitate breathing.