Decorative image

Having a breathing stoma

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. Air goes in and out of your windpipe (trachea) and lungs through this hole.

Why you might have a breathing stoma

This is rare surgery for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer and most stomas are temporary.

Your surgeon will discuss this with you. Ask them if you are likely to have a breathing stoma, and for how long.

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 voice box (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 voice box (larynx) removed 

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

What is a tracheostomy?

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 voice box (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 is a laryngectomy stoma?

If all or part of your voice box (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. 

More information about having a breathing stoma

There is more information in the laryngeal cancer section. This includes waking up after surgery, caring for your stoma and living with a breathing stoma.

To return to this section, go to About cancer in the site menu, choose cancer type and select mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.

Last reviewed: 
11 May 2018
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    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 (2nd edition)

    P. Montgomery and others, 2009

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.