Having a breathing stoma due to mouth and oropharyngeal cancer

A stoma is a hole (opening) made in the skin in front of your neck to allow you to breathe. The opening is made at the base of your neck. Air goes in and out of your windpipe (trachea) and lungs through this hole.

This surgery is rare for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer and most stomas are temporary.

Why you might have a breathing stoma

Your surgeon will discuss this with you. Ask them if you are likely to have a breathing stoma, and for how long.

You might need a stoma if:

  • your mouth or oropharyngeal cancer is blocking your throat and the surgeon can't remove it because it is too big 
  • you have swelling in and around your voice box (larynx) after radiotherapy 
  • your surgeon expects you to have swelling in your mouth or throat after surgery 
  • you have had surgery to remove all or part of your voice box (larynx)  

You sometimes need breathing stomas for very big tongue and oropharyngeal cancers. 

What is a tracheostomy?

If you still have your voice box (larynx), the hole is called a tracheostomy. This is usually temporary. One of your team can often remove the tracheostomy when the swelling goes down and the voice box (larynx) heals. 

When they remove the tracheostomy tube the hole usually heals by itself. Very rarely you need an operation to close the hole. 

What is a laryngectomy stoma?

If all or part of your voice box (larynx) is removed, you will have a permanent stoma to breathe through. You need this because the connection between your windpipe (trachea) and mouth has gone. 

This is called a laryngectomy stoma. You might also hear it called a tracheostomy. 

Diagram showing the position of the larynx
Diagram showing the position of the larynx
Diagram showing the position of the stoma after laryngectomy
Diagram showing the position of the stoma after laryngectomy

More information about having a breathing stoma

There is more information in the laryngeal cancer section. This includes waking up after surgery, caring for your stoma and living with a breathing stoma.

To return to this section, go to About cancer in the site menu, choose cancer type and select mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.

Last reviewed: 
19 Oct 2021
Next review due: 
19 Oct 2024
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