The main aim of laryngectomy surgery is to remove the cancer completely. You may have a partial laryngectomy or total laryngectomy.

What is a laryngectomy?

Surgery is one of the main treatments for laryngeal cancer. The main aim of laryngectomy surgery is to remove the cancer completely.

A partial laryngectomy is surgery to remove the part of the larynx affected by cancer. This operation is rare, as people are usually offered radiotherapy or chemoradiation instead.

Some people have an operation to remove the cancer by removing the whole larynx. This is called a total laryngectomy. Your doctors may offer this treatment if they think radiotherapy may not cure the cancer completely. You may also need some lymph nodes removed from your neck (see below).

Before a laryngectomy

Before you have the operation, your surgeon will explain what will happen before, during and after the surgery. You will have some tests to make sure you are well enough for the operation. These usually include:

You may have these done at a pre-assessment clinic before you go into hospital.

You have this operation under general anaesthetic.

Partial laryngectomy

Your surgeon makes a cut in your neck and removes the affected part of the larynx.

After a partial laryngectomy, you still have part of your larynx. This means you should be able to speak. But your voice is likely to be weak or hoarse.

Swallowing may also be affected. Your speech and language therapist (SLT) can give you more information about how to cope with this.

Temporary tracheostomy

Sometimes, surgery to the larynx causes temporary swelling around the throat. This can narrow your airway and make it difficult for you to breathe. If this happens, the surgeon makes a small opening into your windpipe for you to breathe through until the swelling goes down. This is called a tracheostomy or stoma.

We have more information about having a temporary tracheostomy.

Total laryngectomy

The surgeon makes a cut in your neck and removes the whole larynx. This means there is no longer a connection between your mouth, nose and lungs. After the operation you will breathe and speak in a different way.

You breathe through a hole (opening) in your neck, called a stoma. You also no longer have vocal cords to produce a voice. But you can speak using a choice of different ways to communicate.

Laryngectomy stoma

A laryngectomy stoma is when the surgeon makes a permanent opening in the windpipe. It is in the lower part of your neck and you breathe through it.

The stoma stays open on its own. Some people may need a soft tube to help keep their stoma open for the first few days after surgery. Others may need the tube for longer.

Laryngectomy stoma

The thought of having a laryngectomy stoma can be frightening. But you will get lots of support and information from your healthcare team.

You have the stoma for the rest of your life and breathe through it from when you have your operation. Your surgeon, specialist nurse and speech and language therapist (SLT) will talk to you about this before your operation.

When you are well enough, your nurse will teach you how to clean and take care of the stoma.

You can continue to get support from your healthcare team for as long as you need it.

We have more information about living with a laryngectomy stoma.

Removing lymph nodes

During your operation, the surgeon may also remove some lymph nodes to check for cancer cells. Or they may need to remove affected lymph nodes. This is called a neck dissection. Your surgeon will talk to you about this before your operation.

The nodes that are removed are sent to a laboratory to be checked for cancer cells.

After the operation, your neck and shoulder may be stiff on the side where you had the surgery. A physiotherapist can show you exercises to help with this.

We have more information about what to expect after your operation.

Reconstruction

Sometimes, you may need surgery to reconstruct the area where you have had the operation.

The aim of reconstructive surgery is to make the area look and work as naturally as possible.

Your surgeon takes tissue from another part of the body and uses it to replace tissue taken from the neck.

They may take the tissue from areas such as the forearm, thigh or chest. This is known as a flap.

Reconstruction can help with your recovery from the operation. It can also help improve your speech and swallowing. Your surgeon will explain whether this is recommended for you.

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