Great advances have been made in surgical procedures so that structures affected by cancer can either be spared from removal, or reconstructed well enough that the patient is not disfigured. The larynx, or voice box, can be saved in half the cases in which it would have been removed in the past. When part of the lower or upper jaw needs to be removed, doctors can now refashion a jawbone using bone from the patient's leg, hip, or shoulder blade. The tongue can even be reconstructed with appropriate soft tissue from various parts of the body.
For patients in whom a structure cannot be saved or restored, there are several new ways of helping to improve speech, swallowing, and other functions. Doctors can now restore a patient's vocal ability using a quick implant procedure. Other options for restoring a person's vocals include an electrolarnyx - a device placed against the neck to help form words and a tracheosophageal puncture - a surgical procedure that restores the patient's ability to deliver air into the throat and eventually allows speech.
Using a simultaneous, two-team approach during surgery, oncologic and reconstructive surgeons work alongside one another. Their team efforts, combined with the anesthesia and operating room nursing staff, has significantly shortened procedure times. After surgery, the team of nurses, speech pathologists, and social workers work with patients to help them recover and rehabilitate quickly.