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Having a breathing stoma

Read about what a breathing stoma is and why you might have one after some treatments for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.

What a breathing stoma is

A stoma is a hole (opening) made in the skin in front of your neck to allow you to breathe. The opening is made at the base of your neck. Through this hole air goes in and out of your windpipe (trachea) and lungs. 

Why you might have a breathing stoma

This is rare surgery for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer and most stomas are temporary. Before surgery ask your doctor if you will have a breathing stoma, and how long for. 

You might need a stoma if:

  • your mouth or oropharyngeal cancer is blocking your throat and is too big to be removed 
  • you have swelling in and around your voicebox (larynx) after radiotherapy 
  • your surgeon expects you to have swelling in your mouth or throat after surgery 
  • you have had all or part of your voicebox (larynx) removed 

Breathing stomas are sometimes needed for very big tongue and oropharyngeal cancers. 

What a tracheostomy is

If you still have your voice box (larynx), the hole is called a tracheostomy. This is usually temporary. It can often be removed when the swelling goes down and the voicebox (larynx) heals. 

When the tracheostomy tube is removed the hole usually heals by itself. Very rarely you need an operation to close the hole. 

What a laryngectomy stoma is

If all or part of your voicebox (larynx) is removed, you will have a permanent stoma to breathe through. You need this because the connection between your windpipe (trachea) and mouth has gone. 

This is called a laryngectomy stoma. You might also hear it called a tracheostomy. 

Last reviewed: 
23 Oct 2014
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    J Tobias and D Hochhauser 
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and practice of oncology (9th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • Principles and Practice of Head and Neck Surgery and Oncology 

    P. Montgomery and others, 2nd edition, 2009

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