Learn about how a laryngectomy can be a life-saving measure.

The vocal cords serve an important function in people’s everyday lives. However, like any other part of the body, they are susceptible to illnesses and injuries that warrant prompt medical attention.

  • A laryngectomy is a surgical procedure that involves the total removal of the vocal cords. It is performed to address injuries and, most commonly, as a treatment for larynx cancer.
  • A laryngectomy affects a patient’s ability to speak, breathe, and swallow. To facilitate these functions after the surgery, doctors create a stoma through which a patient can breathe.

How is a Laryngectomy Performed?

A laryngectomy is performed under general sedation. After the patient is asleep, the surgeon will make two incisions, one on each side of the neck, through which to remove the vocal cords and lymph nodes. The surgeon will then create a stoma in front of the trachea that will be linked directly to the lungs. The stoma allows the patient to breathe on his or her own after the surgery.

The surgeon will then place drainage tubes in the incisions before suturing the incisions closed. The tubes will remain in place for several days to remove excess blood and fluid.

The patient is then taken to the recovery unit to awake from anesthesia. Most patients are well enough to return home two to three days after their surgeries.

Laryngectomy Recovery

The typical recovery time for a laryngectomy is six to eight weeks. During the first two weeks, the patient will learn how to breathe through the stoma. It is critical that the patient follow the surgeon’s post-care instructions carefully to avoid complications like choking. The stoma should be kept clean and free from debris that could interrupt normal respiration.

The patient may also be fed through a feeding tube inserted into the nose or down the throat. This tube may remain in place for up to two weeks until the patient is stronger and can learn how to eat normally without compromising the stoma. Most patients are advised to follow a clear liquid diet even after the feeding tube is removed until they are fully recuperated from their surgeries.

A laryngectomy removes cancer from the larynx that could otherwise be life threatening. Still, it is an involved surgery that requires a lengthy recover period. Patients who are candidates for a laryngectomy may wish to learn how this procedure is performed and what to expect after they are sent home to recuperate.