Temporary tracheostomy for head and neck cancer

A temporary tracheostomy is a small opening in the windpipe (trachea) that may need to be made during surgery to help you breathe.

A tracheostomy is when your surgeon makes a small opening in your windpipe (trachea) to help with your breathing. They insert a small plastic tube to keep it open. A tracheostomy is usually temporary.

You may need a tracheostomy if surgery for head and neck cancer:

  • may cause temporary swelling in the mouth and throat that makes breathing difficult
  • removes part or all of the voicebox – because the cancer is nearby or has grown into it.

Your surgeon and nurse will tell you if you may need a tracheostomy and what to expect. 

You will also see a speech and language therapist (SLT) because your speech will be affected while the tube is in. They will explain how you will be able to communicate with people after surgery while it is still in place. This could be using writing materials, picture boards, a mobile phone, laptop or table.

A tracheostomy tube
Image: MACD211 A tracheostomy tube

The tracheostomy tube is usually removed after surgery, when the swelling has gone. The opening heals over naturally.

If you have had all of the voicebox removed (laryngectomy), the tracheostomy is permanent. Your doctor and nurse will give you further information and support. 

Related pages
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.