Reconstructive Surgery

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Our Head and Neck Cancer Program helps you start on the road to recovery. For more information, connect with a cancer care specialist at 310-774-6275​​​​​​​.

The Department of Head and Neck Surgery has an international reputation of excellence for reconstructive surgery.  This specialty has the aim of restoring facial appearance and preserving speech, swallowing, and chewing function in patients treated for head and neck cancer.

Reconstructive Surgery

Reconstructive Surgery at UCLA Head and Neck Cancer Program

Free flap reconstruction can help many patients after they have had tumors of the head and neck removed. Free flap reconstruction is a technique of tissue transplantation from another part of the body to the head and neck. It is a technically demanding procedure that requires suturing small blood vessels with a diameter of 2 to 4 mm. Surgeons use a microscope to place sutures that are finer than human hair. Our department’s success rate using this technique is 99.5 percent, in more than 1,500 patients over 20 years. These faculty members are among the most experienced and most successful reconstructive surgeons in the world.

We specialize in:

  • Jaw bone reconstruction
  • Tongue reconstruction
  • Restoring facial muscle movement

Jaw Bone Reconstruction

One of the most common needs for free flap reconstruction in patients with head and neck tumors is reconstruction of the jaw bones. In this technique, living bone grafts are used to restore facial form and oral function in patients that have tumors involving the jaw bone. We have closely collaborated with our colleagues in the UCLA School of Dentistry in research. The results show that we can restore patients’ chewing ability to levels that equal or exceed preoperative levels of chewing, using reconstructive surgery and dental implants.

Tongue Reconstruction

Swallowing difficulties are some of the most common functional problems that occur after head and neck cancer treatment. In our research, we have found that surgical treatment of tongue cancer is highly likely to impede swallowing ability. To address this problem, we have worked to improve techniques to maintain tongue function for patients who have cancer of that area. Using free flaps, we are often able to reconstruct up to half of the tongue while enabling patients to maintain good quality swallowing and speech ability. Even patients requiring total removal of the tongue can regain understandable speech and swallowing function through tongue reconstructive surgery.

Restoring Facial Muscle Movement

Patients who have had tumors of the salivary glands, cheek or ear may risk suffering from facial paralysis. This condition results in:

  • Drooping of the eyebrow, lower eyelid and mouth
  • Inability to close one or both eyelids

Through facial reanimation reconstructive surgery, we can help restore lost facial muscle strength. We perform muscle transfers and nerve grafts to help patients recover facial movement.

Reconstructive Surgery Appointments

Learn more:
Visit the Microvascular and Reconstructive Surgery Program at UCLA >