Surgery may be used to remove all or part of the cancer if the
tumour is too large to be treated with radiotherapy alone.
Occasionally, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove lymph
nodes in the neck that may still contain cancer cells after
radiotherapy. The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system,
which is part of the body’s natural defence against infection.
Depending on the type of cancer, surgery may be extensive, and
skin grafts (using skin taken from another part of your body) may
sometimes be needed. Following extensive surgery for cancer of the
head and neck, prostheses (false facial parts) may be used to
replace parts of the face that have had to be removed.
Surgery specific for cancer of the larynx
Surgery may be necessary to remove the tumour from your larynx
if the cancer:
- Has stopped the vocal cords moving
- Has affected more than the vocal cords
- Is a small tumour confined to the larynx which has not
responded to radiotherapy
- Returns some time after radiotherapy.
Depending on the extent of the tumour, either the whole larynx
(laryngectomy) or only part of it (partial laryngectomy) will be
removed. Laryngectomee is the term used to describe a person who
has had a laryngectomy. Following a partial laryngectomy, one
vocal cord is left so that you are still able to speak with a
reasonable, but hoarse, voice.
Removal of the larynx means that there is no longer a
connection between your mouth and lungs. The surgeon makes an
opening called a tracheostomy (or stoma) in the lower part of your
neck for you to breathe through and speak. The connection between
your mouth and stomach is not affected by this, and eventually you
will be able to eat and drink normally.
Many people who have a tracheostomy are worried about how it
will look, and a lot of supportive help is available. As well as
support from partners, relatives and friends, you may benefit from
the support of healthcare professionals and self-help groups,
particularly The National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs.