Reconstructing a mouth after oral cancer surgery can be tricky. The tissue inside our mouths is so unique. Surgeons at Washington University in St. Louis used their gut instincts and found a compatible substitute to rebuild with.
Harry’s appetite for life was threatened earlier this year by cancer in the mouth. Surgery eliminated the tumor covering the inside of his right cheek, but it left behind a mouth unable to function. Plastic surgeon patched up the problem using transplant tissue from an unlikely source…the large intestine.
“It is very similar tissue to the lining of the mouth. Both of them produce mucous that helps lubricate the mouth and it’s very thin.”
There’s plenty of tissue to spare. A portion of the patient’s large intestine along with connected blood vessels is removed and fileted to produce a flat tissue graft.
“Then we hook the blood vessels in the neck, which then makes that tissue viable.”
Dr. Jones has reconstructed the mouths of four cancer patients using tissue from the large intestine, all with good results. Each of the patients underwent some therapy to learn how to speak and swallow again. Harry is doing both a little slower than he used to, but every day brings some improvement.
Harry, mouth reconstruction patient:
“I got feeling back there on that intestine part which is now the same as the meat on the other side of the jaw. It’s getting so I can chew on one side as well as over on the other.”
Before this method was available, doctors had to rely on tissue grafts from the patient’s forearm. For some people, especially men, that often meant a graft with hair growing on it. Not a very appetizing option.