Tulane surgeons have developed a new procedure that will help patients who have had portions of their neck and larynx removed during head and neck cancer treatment swallow and talk. Dr. Ernest Chiu, director of plastic surgery research at Tulane and a facial reconstructive surgery specialist, and Dr. Paul Friedlander, chair of otolaryngology at Tulane, use a small blood vessel from the shoulder to reconstruct the pharyngeal and esophageal lining of such patients. Without the reconstruction, they cannot speak or swallow.
Previously, reconstruction surgeries were performed by transplanting a patient's tissue from the small intestine, arm or leg. Chiu says the new technique reduces surgery time by 40 percent, and a patient normally can swallow again in two to three weeks. It also allows patients to resume cancer therapies more quickly. Patients also may receive a prosthesis to preserve speech function instead of using an electro-larynx device patients must touch to their neck to talk.
Results of the new procedure are detailed in an article by Chiu, Friedlander and other Tulane doctors published last month in the journal Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.