If you’ve been diagnosed with oral or mouth cancer, your doctor may recommend surgery, which is the most common treatment for the disease, especially in early stages. Surgeons approach the removal of oral cancers in different ways depending on the location and size of the tumor, and there have been significant advances in treatment over the past decades. Here are some of surgical methods for treating oral cancer, and what to expect if you undergo mouth cancer surgery. Common Types of Oral Cancer Surgery Oral cancer can mean cancer of the mouth, lips, jaw or throat, which is why the surgical procedures vary. In all these cases, reconstructive or therapeutic techniques can help restore function and appearance after your surgery if it’s needed. Lip cancer: If you have a cancer on your lip, your doctor may perform a procedure called Mohs micrographic surgery, in which very thin slices of tissue are removed until there is no sign of cancerous cells. Tongue cancer: Surgery to treat cancer of the tongue is called a glossectomy, which means a part or all of your tongue may be removed. It can be reconstructed with tissue from elsewhere in your body. Jaw cancer: If the cancer is in your jaw, you will have a mandibulectomy, in which part or all of your jawbone is removed. It can be replaced with bone from another part of your body, from a deceased donor, or with a metal plate. Cancer of the hard palate: A maxillectomy is a surgery to remove the cancerous part of the bone in the roof of your mouth. A specially trained dentist can create a prosthetic to fill the area if needed. Cancer of the voice box: In rare cases, surgeons will need to remove your larynx, or voice box. During the surgery, doctors will make a hole in the front of your throat, called a tracheostomy, that allows you to breath and cough. You can also learn techniques to help you speak after the surgery. Doctors may also remove tissue from your lymph nodes to check to see if cancer cells are located there. If you have cancer of the tongue, floor of the mouth, or lower gums, surgeons may be more likely to remove some lymph nodes entirely, since cancer tends to spread from these parts of the mouth. Preparing for Oral Cancer Surgery Before your surgery, talk to your doctor about how your procedure will affect how you look and speak, swallow or chew. Make sure you understand how your medical team will help address these changes with therapy and surgical reconstruction, which may be done at the same time as the cancer surgery or in a separate procedure. Reconstruction can very successful. Recent advances in implant surgery, tissue defect modeling, and biocompatible materials help many patients recover excellent function and physical appearance. In some instances, reconstruction may be accomplished by a skin graft or a more substantial graft of full-thickness tissue called a flap. The graft may be taken from an area near the site of the operation or from another place, such as your leg. If the surgeon has to remove teeth, doctors or dentists can install metal implants into your jaw and put replacement teeth in when tissue has healed over the implant. Oral Cancer Surgery Recovery and Success Rate After your surgery, you may well have pain and fatigue. Be sure to tell your medical team about any discomfort so they can help you with medication or other ways to manage side effects. You may also have some swelling in the area of the surgery, which will go down over time. Depending on the type of surgery performed, you may have rehabilitation therapy to help with breathing, swallowing or chewing difficulties. You may learn to use a feeding tube or a tube to help you breathe after a tracheostomy, at least temporarily. Your ability to talk may also be impaired for a while. Your hospital stay could be a few days or up to a couple of weeks or longer, depending on the extent of the surgery and the pace of your particular recovery. Once you've left the hospital, you'll probably still need some special care for a few weeks if the surgery was extensive. Doctors have many treatments to help you following oral cancer surgery. More than 80% of people with small, early mouth cancers that have not spread are alive after five years, as are more than half of those with oral cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes. The survival rate is somewhat lower, 39%, if the cancer has metastasized to different parts of the body, but bear in mind that statistics reflect the average, not the individual. Newer treatments have improved the outlook for many people who are diagnosed with oral or mouth cancer. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns before your surgery, so you know what to expect and feel as prepared as possible.