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Strides Made in Tonsil Cancer Repair

New technique in palate reconstruction may make speaking, eating easier, study finds

FRIDAY, Oct. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Surgery on tonsil cancer patients can spell trouble for the palate, but now researchers say they've developed a technique that helps preserve the ability to speak clearly and eat most foods.

Traditionally, surgeons use big pieces of tissue to reconstruct the area after tonsil tumors are removed. But the patients who undergo this treatment can suffer "quality of life issues," study author Dr. Douglas Chepeha, an associate professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and director of the microvascular program at the University of Michigan Health System, said in a school news release.

The treatment "affects speech and eating -- typically, patients have difficulty eating when they have this kind of tumor and undergo surgery," he said.

The new treatment, which uses tissue from another part of the body, helps ensure that the tongue can move more efficiently.

The study authors, who report their findings in the current issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, followed 25 patients with tonsil cancer for an average of five years.

"In particular, patients who have less than half their palate removed do very well with this reconstruction. We're trying to make sure the remaining tongue and palate they have really work. Our goal is to get patients eating in public and back to work," Chepeha said.

Tonsil cancer is a form of throat cancer, which will kill an estimated 2,230 Americans this year.

More information

Learn more about throat cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

--Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, September 2009

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