Head and Neck Cancer
Microvascular Reconstruction Free-Flaps
Surgery is a primary treatment for head and neck cancers. Depending on the size and shape of the tumor, you may need chemotherapy or radiation before surgery to shrink the tumor, or after surgery to remove any remaining cancer cells.
At Wake Forest, our surgeons are experts at performing microvascular reconstruction free flaps. As the busiest head and neck cancer center in North Carolina, we treat more than 300 cases of cancer a year. Many involve some type of reconstructive surgery involving free flaps.
What are free flaps?
Free flaps are made of tissues, bone and nerves taken from other places in the body. After they are reconstructed to follow the shape of the tissues they are replacing, your doctors will delicately reconnect the nerves and blood vessels of the flap to those on the body using microvascular surgical techniques. In this way, as the free flaps heal, they assume the function and form of the tissues they replaced.
Why microvascular reconstruction free flaps?
The first goal in any cancer surgery is to remove as much of the tumor as possible. However, because of the delicate nature of the structures in the head and neck, many times surgery can damage both form and function. However, this potential damage must be weighed against the benefit of removing the cancerous tissue. Therefore, if surgery is the best treatment option, but loss of tissue leads to cosmetic and functional deformities, free flaps affords patients the best possible chance to have an optimal return to function. Quality of life after treatment is a critical part of our program at Wake Forest; read more about our head/neck cancer treatment survivorship program.
How long will it take to heal?
If your microvascular reconstruction free flap was the first part of your treatment, then you can expect to heal for about 4-6 weeks after surgery. Your chemotherapy and radiation treatments can begin once your doctor feels that you are ready.