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
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.
What is Surgical Oncology?
Surgical oncology is the use of surgery to diagnose or treat cancer, or to manage the symptoms of cancer. The Egyptians pioneered the treatment of cancer using surgery, removing breast tumors as early as the seventh century. These days, surgical oncology is much more complex and effective. Most cancer treatments involve surgery, and in some cases it is the only treatment needed.
Surgical oncologists work together with medical oncologists and radiation oncologists to provide care for cancer patients. Along with medical oncologists, surgical oncologists tend to be the primary providers of cancer treatment. Almost every cancer patient will have a medical or surgical oncologist who is in charge of managing their treatment and making decisions about their care.
The specialized knowledge of a surgical oncologist is less about surgical techniques (which may be very similar to techniques used by a general surgeon) and more about an understanding of cancer itself. Surgical oncologists have an advanced knowledge of how cancer presents and changes, and they know the best way to use surgery to treat cancer.
Surgical oncology is a rapidly advancing specialty, and many new techniques and procedures have been developed in recent years, including minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery. A surgical oncologist is able to safely wield these complicated techniques to remove tumors from the body.
What is Trauma Surgery?
Accidents and injuries are the leading cause of death in the United States for patients under 40. When injuries are severe enough to require emergency surgery, patients may be treated by a trauma surgeon, a doctor who specializes in providing surgical help to save critically injured patients.
Due to the nature of their work, trauma surgeons are most often located in emergency departments of hospitals. The specialty is closely related to emergency medicine and acute care surgery, but trauma surgery specifically focuses on surgical care needed to repair sudden and unexpected physical injuries.
Some examples of the kinds of injuries and procedures that a trauma surgeon might see include:
Blunt trauma, such as a car accident or fall
Penetrating trauma, such as a gunshot, stab wound, or deep cut
Crushing trauma, such as some work or machinery accidents
Tracheostomy, an emergency surgery to open a blocked airway
Trauma surgeons work with patients of all ages, from babies to senior citizens, that arrive in the emergency room. They do the critical work of resuscitating and stabilizing patients who may be near death. They are able to make quick decisions about what care is needed and the best way to provide it. By providing urgent expertise and surgery in an emergency, they save lives.
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