Rehabilitation after surgery for oral cancer

For a patient with advanced oral cancer, the goal of eliminating all cancerous tissue through surgery often requires removal of surrounding tissue, and nearby organs maybe damaged or even removed. Restoration is the process of "giving back" to the patient as much lost tissue as possible. This is done using plastic or reconstructive surgery to restore the lost bone and tissue of the mouth. Reconstruction is commonly done at the time of the initial surgery in order to reduce the number of necessary surgeries and speed recovery time. Reconstruction may involve transferring tissue from one area of the body to the head and neck region, or high-tech implants could be used to replace lost bone or tissue.

Radiation therapy to eliminate residual cancer cells may injure the salivary glands resulting in reduced saliva or a "dry mouth," a condition called xerostomia. Damage may also occur to the muscles and joints of the jaw or to the blood supply of the facial bones. And the basic tasks of speaking, chewing and swallowing can be difficult to accomplish, greatly affecting quality of life.

Patients requiring this type of surgery and radiation therapy receive extensive rehabilitation. A diverse team of therapists and specialists works with the patient to address factors such as speech and eating, saliva flow, muscle action, facial appearance, quality of life and resumption of daily activities.