Head and neck surgery is a subspecialty that provides advanced surgical care for the head, face, neck, and throat. Most head and neck surgeons begin their careers as otolaryngologists (ENTs) or plastic surgeons, but becoming certified as a head and neck surgeon requires additional training.
A surgeon who treats the head and neck has very specific considerations to take into account when operating. The delicate structures of the head and neck control our senses, our speech, our ability to chew and swallow food, and even our ability to breathe. A head and neck surgeon has to be careful to preserve the many functions of the head and neck when performing an operation. Also, when operating on or around the face, extreme care must be taken to leave as few scars as possible, since the face is a critical part of identity and social interaction. It all adds up to a tricky job.
Some of the issues a head and neck surgeon might treat include:
- Trauma to the face or neck
- Thyroid disorders requiring surgery
- Sinus surgery
- Tonsillectomies / adenoidectomies
- Cleft palate repair
- Disorders of the larynx (voice box)
Cancers, especially of the esophagus, mouth, lips, and skin around the face or throat, are one of the most common issues requiring head or neck surgery. Most often, head and neck cancers are related to tobacco use. Chewing tobacco in particular affects the lips and mouth. Other risk factors for head and neck cancers include alcohol use and sun exposure.
Often after surgery, but particularly after the removal of a tumor, head and neck surgeons will perform reconstructive surgery, including microvascular surgery to connect or replace skin tissue. The goal is to restore not only a patient’s function but also their appearance in this critical area of the body, improving self-esteem.