When it comes to head and neck surgery, nothing is more important than experience in the operating room. The Head and Neck Surgery Division, at the University of Michigan Health System, performs about 1,000 surgeries each year, spending nearly 3,000 hours in the operating room, and sees about 5,000 patients per year. And we also provide cutting-edge reconstructive surgery to preserve both form and function for our patients.
Our group historically has placed a large emphasis on quality of life outcomes, with many studies published on improving swallowing and voice function after major head and neck surgery. We are pioneers in creating new treatment programs for head and neck cancer. And our research program is one of the largest in the country.
Surgical Treatments for Head and Neck Cancers
Traditionally, many treatments for head and neck cancers have been devastating to self-image and dignity: surgeries that leave patients disfigured or unable to speak clearly, and radiation treatments that wither salivary glands and make eating and swallowing difficult. But new approaches, many established here, focus on preserving appearance, function and sense of self, without compromising a patient’s chances for cure.
It’s a mission that requires a coordinated, patient-centered effort from a team of specialists: surgical oncologists with expertise in head and neck and reconstructive surgery, medical oncologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, speech pathologists, physical therapists, schedulers, physician assistants, medical assistants, dentists, prosthodontists and social workers.
The University of Michigan: Leaders in New Reconstruction Surgeries
We off the very latest surgical and non-surgical options, including:
- Sentinel lymph node biopsy – surgically removing lymph node tissue to determine if cancer has spread
- Minimally invasive surgery
- Transoral Robotic Surgery to access more difficult-to-see sites, such as the throat, reducing the need for open surgery
- Microvascular reconstructive surgery using free tissue transfer – borrowing tissue, muscle or bone from another part of the body to replace what was lost from jaws, cheeks, tongues and more due to tumor removal
- Radiation that preserves swallowing function and saliva preservation, so patients can eat a normal diet following cancer treatment.
Rehabilitation begins with a preoperative evaluation and assessment by surgeons, dentists, and speech and swallowing pathologists to look at teeth and evaluate swallowing. After surgery, we work closely with speech and language pathologists for voice and swallowing function rehabilitation. Most patients recover their normal swallowing function. Even when a voice box has to be removed there are ways to rehabilitate the voice to reproduce a normal human voice. Nutritionists and social workers are also available to you. Our team mission is to provide all the services needed to get you as close to your pre-tumor state as possible.