The surgery, which includes removing a portion of the tongue and reconstructing the new tongue, is long and complex, lasting about 10 hours. It requires surgeons to dissect and reattach the blood vessels, just like with a typical organ transplant. The blood vessels are sewn together with tiny sutures, some smaller than a single strand of hair. When patients wake up, their reconstructed tongue is in place.
"In the past, patients who have undergone tongue reconstruction would be very concerned about social interaction. With the type of reconstructions we're performing now, our patients tell us that they're willing to go into a restaurant and order a meal. They have no hesitation whatsoever in asking strangers for directions. They are also able to maintain their employment status and their interactions with friends and family," Chepeha says.
For Bourdin-Krause, the surgery has allowed her to continue working, raising her son and enjoying time with family and friends.
"Now, eight years later, I feel like it's just my normal tongue. I'm used to it. Within a couple weeks, really, I was back to what I considered as normal as I was going to be," she says. "I try very hard not to take anything for granted, because having it almost taken away makes you realize just how special every minute is."
Tongue cancer statistics: 10,140 Americans will be diagnosed with tongue cancer this year and 1,880 will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society
The most common causes of oral cancer are smoking and alcohol consumption,
and the risk increases for people who do both. As with most cancers, the
earlier a tongue cancer lesion is found, the easier it is to treat. Here are
some early signs that could signal
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