Reconstructive microsurgery for head and neck cancer
Plastic surgeons can reconstruct areas of the head and neck affected by cancer with reconstructive microsurgery. It may be possible to reconstruct the nose, tongue or throat using tissues from other areas of the body, such as the thigh, abdomen or forearm. The lower jawbone (mandible) can be reconstructed using the smaller bone from the lower leg (fibula). For patients with facial paralysis secondary to tumor removal, transfer of a small muscle from the inner thigh can be performed to restore a smile.
What is reconstructive microsurgery?
With the aid of a high-magnification microscope, our skilled surgeons are able to use a patient’s own tissue to reconstruct parts of the body affected by cancer, known as reconstructive microsurgery.
After isolating tissue from one part of the body on an artery and vein, surgeons can completely detach the tissue and transfer it elsewhere in the patient’s body for reconstruction. Usually referred to as a “free flap,” this tissue may be composed of skin, fat, muscle or even bone, or a combination of these structures.
Free tissue transfer is accomplished with the aid of a microscope that allows magnification up to 50 times that of the naked eye. Using stitches finer than a single hair, surgeons are able to reconnect the tiny blood vessels from the free flap to recipient vessels in the area of the patient’s body affected by cancer. Because these blood vessels are very small, measuring 1-3 mm in diameter, the microscope enables surgeons to work with precision, and to avoid complications such as clotting or kinking.
The process of using a patient’s own tissue with healthy blood flow promotes healing, reduces scarring and creates a more natural-appearing reconstruction. The technique also minimizes damage to the area of the body (donor site) where tissue is removed, providing optimal surgical results, faster recovery and decreased rates of complications.