First let me tell you what a neck dissection is:
The neck dissection is a procedure for control of (SCC) cancer of the head and neck. The aim of the procedure is to remove lymph nodes from one side of the neck into which cancer cells may have migrated. Metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma into the lymph nodes of the neck reduce survival and is the most important factor in the spread of the disease.
Now let me tell you how its done:
The procedure is performed under general anesthesia through an incision that runs along a skin crease in the neck. Radical and modified radical neck dissections often requires a vertical incision toward the collarbone in addition to the incision in the skin crease. These incisions heal well with minimal scarring and provide safe access to the structures in the neck. Beneath the skin, underlying fat, and a thin layer of muscle, the dissection proceeds to identify and remove the envelope of tissue containing the lymph nodes and surrounding tissues. Except for the sternocleidomastoid muscle, no major muscles are removed and there is no risk of long-term neck weakness.
Neck dissections take 2-4 hours to complete, depending on the type. The incision is usually closed with nylon sutures or skin staples that are removed 6-10 days after surgery. If radiation has been given to the neck previously, sutures remain longer than if no previous radiation has been used. Two drains are also placed which exit the skin of the neck. These are removed 2-6 days after surgery when drainage has ceased.
Now for the personal info:
Neck dissection does hurt. I hate to tell you that, but it does. Take the pain killers they give you. Also keep your wound clean. The neck is a terrible place to get an infection.
It will change the way you speak, for a while. The right side of my mouth wouldn’t work correctly for a few months. Basically, I looked and spoke as if I had suffered a stroke.
Other things to expect are: There will be a tight feeling in your neck. You can help it by doing neck exercises after you are completely healed. Depending on how many nodes they removed, there can also be a strange sensation when eating. After the surgery you may experience a strong pressure in your head and face when you eat. It is caused by fluids that your nodes used to process. My doctor says that these fluids are triggered when you eat. Over time, your body will find ways to disperse this fluid more quickly. I rarely feel the pressure when I eat now, almost two years since my surgery.
The side of your face will be numb. This could also include your ear. Your skin could also feel super-sensitive. You may touch one part of your cheek and have the weird sensation that you are touching a slightly different part of your face, say an inch or two away from the actual place you are touching.
Overall, you will get through it and have little side effects in the long run.
This blog is for those who are, or have loved ones who are facing a neck dissection. I wish I would have been told some of these things before my surgery. It’s a surprise to find out you can’t feel your ear anymore.
Please leave comments if you have gone through, or may be facing a neck dissection and be sure to check out my award winning, adventure novel The Devil’s Backbone