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Having a breathing stoma due to mouth or oropharyngeal cancer

Men and women discussing mouth cancer

This page tells you about breathing stomas for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Having a breathing stoma due to mouth or oropharyngeal cancer

A breathing stoma is a hole (opening) made in the skin in front of your neck to allow you to breathe. The opening is at the base of your neck. Through this hole, air enters and leaves your windpipe (trachea) and lungs. You may need a stoma if your mouth or oropharyngeal cancer is blocking your throat and it is too big to completely remove. Or you may need it if you have swelling in and around your voice box after radiotherapy.

These situations are most likely to happen with very large tumours of the tongue and oropharynx. Your surgeon will make the stoma when you have your operation to remove your cancer.

This is a rare operation for cancer of the tongue and oropharynx. And most of these stomas are temporary. Before you have surgery ask your doctor if you will have a breathing stoma and how long you are likely to need it for. If you still have your voice box and the stoma is temporary, it is called a tracheostomy.

If you have had your voice box removed, you will have a permanent stoma to breathe through. You need this because the connection between your windpipe and mouth has gone. But this very rare with mouth or oropharyngeal cancer. The stoma is called a tracheostomy or laryngectomy stoma. 

 

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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 enters and leaves your windpipe (trachea) and lungs.

 

When you might need a breathing stoma

This is a rare operation for cancer of the tongue and oropharynx and most stomas are temporary. Before you have surgery, ask your doctor if you will need to have a breathing stoma and how long it is likely to stay in for.

You may need a stoma if

  • Your mouth or oropharyngeal cancer is blocking your throat and it is too big to completely remove
  • You have swelling in and around your voice box after radiotherapy
  • Your surgeon expects you to have a lot of swelling in your mouth and throat after your surgery
  • You have had surgery to remove all or part of your voice box (laryngectomy)

These situations are most likely to happen with very large tumours of the tongue and oropharynx. Your surgeon will make the stoma when you have your operation to remove your cancer.

 

Tracheostomy

If you still have your voice box, the hole is called a tracheostomy. You may only need to have a temporary tracheostomy. This means that you have the tracheostomy until the swelling and voice box heals. Then, the tracheostomy tube can come out and usually the hole will heal up by itself. If not, then it may need to be closed with an operation.

 

Removal of voice box (laryngectomy) and permanent stoma

If you need to have your voice box removed, you will have a permanent stoma to breathe through. You need this because the connection between your windpipe and mouth has gone.

Your nurse or doctor may still call this a tracheostomy or they may call it a laryngectomy stoma.

There is detailed information about starting out with a breathing stoma and life with a breathing stoma in the larynx cancer section.

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Updated: 23 October 2014