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Surgery to help you breathe or eat

Cancers of the mouth and oropharynx can sometimes block a part of your throat, which may affect your breathing and eating. 

You might have an operation to put a hole in your neck if you have difficulty breathing. This is called a tracheostomy and allows you to breathe.

If you have difficulty swallowing you may have a tube put into your stomach. You have liquid food into this tube. There are different types of feeding tube.

Helping you breathe

This operation is called a tracheostomy. The surgeon makes an opening (a hole) in the front of your neck to bypass the tumour. This allows you to breathe more easily. This hole is called a stoma. 

You might have a tracheostomy if the cancer is blocking your throat or is too big to completely remove. Sometimes your surgeon may expect you to have a lot of swelling in the mouth and throat after surgery. In this case you might have a temporary tracheostomy, to help you breathe until the swelling goes down. 

Feeding tubes

If you have difficulty swallowing, you may need a feeding tube. This means you can have specially prepared liquid feeds through a tube into your stomach or small intestine. There are different types of feeding tubes. 

Gastrostomy tube

A gastrostomy tube is also called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (or PEG tube). The surgeon puts a tube into your stomach or small intestine through an opening made in your tummy (a stoma).

You might have a PEG tube after surgery until you can eat normally again. Or you may have it as a long term solution if you can't eat because of swallowing problems. 

You can have liquid feeds through your gastrostomy tube for as long as you need them. 

Diagram showing the position of a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) feeding tube

Nasogastric tube

You might have a different type of feeding tube if your swallowing problems are temporary. This is called a nasogastric tube. The nurse or doctor passes the tube down your nose and throat and into your stomach.

You can have all or some of the food you need through this tube as liquid meals. Once you can swallow more easily, your nurse can take it out. 

Diagram showing the position of a nasogastric tube