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Surgeons Pioneer New Jaw Reconstruction Technique

It could help patients disfigured by oral cancers

WEDNESDAY, June 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. surgeons say they've developed a promising new method of lower jaw reconstruction for patients who've had surgery to remove large oral tumors.

This new approach, first tested on rabbits, was to be outlined Wednesday at a meeting of the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

"We think this new process can be a huge advantage for patients and a good tool for reconstructive surgeons," lead investigator Dr. Daniel Price, an ear, nose and throat surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic, said in a prepared statement.

"We're excited about it. It will not completely replace the current mandible reconstruction method -- transfer of bone -- but down the road, I think that this method of reconstruction will be done regularly in patients with cancer involving the mandible," Price added.

The current standard procedure for jaw reconstruction in these patients uses bone transferred from the fibula in the patient's leg, along with surrounding muscle, skin and blood vessels. This method produces good functional and aesthetic results but does have some negative aspects. For example, the surgery is costly and takes all day. Plus, the second surgery site in the leg means patients are less mobile after the operation.

The new approach uses a procedure called "distraction osteogenesis" to restore the section of jaw that's lost during tumor removal surgery. With distraction osteogenesis, a cut is made at one of the remaining ends of the jawbone. Pliable soft tissue appears and a special device is used to stretch this tissue across the gap in the patient's jaw. This soft tissue eventually hardens into bone.

Within 24 hours of the stretching process, radiation therapy is administered in order to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

The next phase of the research will involve larger animals, the Mayo team said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about oral cancer.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, June 28, 2006
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