Reconstruction surgery

When the surgeon removes a large area of tissue, they rebuild (reconstruct) the area. 

You can have reconstruction surgery using:

  • tissue from another part of the body (a flap)
  • skin from another part of the body (a skin graft)
  • bone from another part of the body

Using tissue from another part of the body

An operation that moves tissue from one part of the body to another is called a reconstruction free flap or flap repair. 

Your surgeon might take tissue from an area such as the bowel or the muscles in the arms, back or tummy, and use this to replace sections of the mouth or throat.

Your surgeon may use micro vascular techniques to sew together small blood vessels under a microscope. This is a specialised surgery (by a maxillofacial surgeon). 

After surgery your nurses keep a close eye on the flap. They make sure the new tissue is getting a good blood supply to bring oxygen and nutrients. They might use a tiny probe to help check the flap is working well.

Using skin from another part of the body

This is called a skin graft. It means replacing an area of skin with another piece of skin taken from elsewhere in the body. This type of surgery is not commonly used these days.

The surgeon removes a thin sheet of skin from somewhere not too obvious, such as your inner thigh or forearm. This is called the donor site. They then put this sheet of skin over the area that needs covering. 

After surgery, the donor site looks like a large graze. The skin grows back over a couple of weeks. Sometimes a thicker section of skin is cut out. The donor site is repaired by stitching it back together. 

After a skin graft, the new skin often looks different from the surrounding area. It may have a different colour and be slightly lower than the surface of the skin around it. 

This can affect your feelings about how you look. And you may find it difficult to cope with. 

Using bone from another part of the body

Sometimes your surgeon may need to remove part of your jawbone. They may replace it using bone taken from the hip, lower leg or back. 


Reconstructive surgery can change way your appearance and the way you feel about yourself. This can be difficult to cope with.

Your team will try to prepare you and support you as much as possible. There are different health professionals and charities that can help.

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

Last reviewed: 
05 Jun 2018
  • Oral cavity and lip cancer: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines
    C Kerawala and others 
    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130 (Suppl. S2), pages S83–S89

  • Oropharyngeal cancer: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines
    H Mehanna and others 
    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130, supplement S2, pages S90-S96

  • Functional Outcomes and Complications of Robot-Assisted Free Flap Oropharyngeal Reconstruction

    Y Tsai and others 

    Annals of Plastic Surgery, 2017. Volume 78, issue 3, supplement 2, pages S76-S82

  • Transoral robotic surgery with radial forearm free flap reconstruction: case control analysis
    V Biren and others 
    Journal of Otolaryngology, 2017. Volume 14, issue 46(1), page 20

  • Transoral robotic surgery for residual and recurrent oropharyngeal cancers: Exploratory study of surgical innovation using the IDEAL framework for early-phase surgical studies

    V Paleri and others 

    Head and neck 2018 volume 40(3) pages 512-525

  • Swallowing outcomes following primary surgical resection and primary free flap reconstruction for oral and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas: A systematic review

    S kao and others 

    laryngoscope 2016 volume 126(7) pages 1572-80

Related links