Surgery for Head and Neck Cancer

Surgery is the first treatment for many head and neck cancers, especially skin cancer and cancers of the mouth, salivary glands and thyroid gland. Many head and neck cancers can be treated with surgery alone.

The head and neck area includes many delicate structures that control the ability to speak, swallow and breathe normally. The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute head and neck surgeons are national leaders and experts in minimally invasive surgery that avoids these important structures as much as possible. Using the latest surgical techniques can help preserve normal function and appearance.

Minimally invasive surgical treatments for head and neck cancer surgery include:

Transoral MICROsurgery

Head and neck surgeons can sometimes remove mouth, throat and larynx (voice box) cancers through the mouth. The surgeon uses a thin tube called an endoscope that includes a microscope, light and tiny instruments or a laser to remove the tumor.  

Transoral robotic surgery (TORS)

Transoral robotic surgery (TORS) is a minimally invasive surgical option for patients with head and neck cancers. TORS has revolutionized the approach to treating these types of cancers and has provided patients with shorter hospital stays and faster recovery to normal speech and swallowing. Surgeons at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute were the first to perform TORS for cancer in the Pacific Northwest.

Learn more about transoral robotic surgery at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute

Endoscopic skull base surgery

Traditional surgical approaches to cancers in the nose and sinuses involved an incision on your face and a craniotomy (incision through your skull). 

However, since 2009, head and neck surgeons at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute have successfully removed these cancers entirely through the nose, a technique called endoscopic skull base surgery. This technique can result in fewer complications, quicker recovery and preservation of nasal and sinus function. We offer the most experienced endoscopic skull base surgeons in the region. 

Neck Dissection

When head or neck cancer spreads, it usually spreads first to the lymph nodes in the neck. (Lymph nodes are small organs that are part of the immune system.) Your head and neck surgeon will remove the lymph nodes if cancer has spread. Neck dissection surgery is a way of removing them without damaging important muscles and nerves in the neck and shoulder area. This helps avoid the numbness, weakness and movement problems many patients had after neck surgery in the past.  

Neck dissection is one of the most common procedures for people with head and neck cancer.  Our head and neck surgeons are national leaders in promoting nerve and muscle-sparing neck dissections; we are the most experienced team in the region using this important modified technique.

Microvascular Reconstruction

After your surgery for head and neck cancer, you may need reconstructive surgery. This is usually done right after your surgery to remove the cancer.

Our team provides the most experience in microvascular reconstruction in the region. We partner with colleagues from plastic surgery, oral surgery and dental services for comprehensive surgical rehabilitation.

For more information about surgical treatments for head and neck cancer or to make an appointment, call OHSU Knight Cancer Institute at 503 494-5355.