Surgery for a Mouth or Throat Tumor

Closeup of two surgeons working in operating room.

Surgery may be done to remove either a benign or a cancerous tumor. Your health care team will let you know what to expect. They’ll also discuss the possible risks and complications of the surgery, the benefits of the surgery, any alternative treatment options, and the health care personnel involved.

The surgical plan

Your surgery may take from a few minutes to several hours. At the start, you’ll receive anesthesia to keep you comfortable. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, surgery can include:

  • Removing the tumor. If the tumor is benign, you may need no further treatment after it’s removed. If the tumor is cancerous, you may also need radiation or chemotherapy.

  • Helping you breathe while the tumor is removed. To do this, a small hole may be made in the front of your throat. A tracheostomy (trach) tube may be inserted through this hole to help you breathe.

  • Removing some lymph nodes from your neck if your tumor is cancerous. This procedure (called neck dissection) is done if the tumor has spread to the regional neck lymph nodes. This procedure will help keep the cancer from spreading, and the information gathered during the procedure will help guide further treatment.

  • Reconstructive options for the surgical defect. This could include  using tissue from your forearm, thigh, chest, back, or other donor site to replace tissue removed during the surgery. If necessary, this can help you regain better use of your mouth, throat, or neck after treatment.

Risks and complications

Some of the risks and complications of surgery include:

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing

  • Pain or numbness at the incision site

  • Loss of muscle tone or range of motion in your face, neck, or arm

  • Reduced sense of taste, smell, or feeling

  • Change in appearance