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New Reconstruction Method Makes Speaking, Eating Possible After Tonsil Cancer Surgery, U-M Study Shows
Date:9/22/2009

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Sept. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new technique for reconstructing the palate after surgery for tonsil cancer maintained patients' ability to speak clearly and eat most foods, a new study shows.

The technique, developed at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, is described in the September Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

"This is the area that triggers swallowing, that separates the mouth from the nasal cavity. It affects speech and eating - typically, patients have difficulty eating when they have this kind of tumor and undergo surgery. We can remove the cancer, but there are major quality of life issues," says study author Douglas Chepeha, M.D., M.S.P.H., associate professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery and director of the microvascular program at the University of Michigan Health System.

Tonsil cancer develops in the back of the throat, which means surgery could include parts of the palate, the tongue and the jaw. Traditional reconstruction efforts have meant taking a large, round piece of tissue to plug the hole left when the tumor is removed. But this impairs the way the palate and tongue function, and does not restore the complex components of the throat that allow a person to speak and swallow.

With the new technique, surgeons first create a tube from the remaining palate by attaching the palate to the back part of the throat, next to where the tumor was removed. This tube separates the mouth from the nasal cavity and closes during swallowing, allowing patients to eat and speak.

Then the surgeons sew up the defect in the base of the tongue to separate the tongue from the rest of the reconstruction. This ensures that the tongue can move, which improves swallowing and speech. The shape of the remaining defect is irregular, so a template is designed for
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SOURCE University of Michigan Health System
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