Head and Neck Tumors

Tumors of the head and neck can occur due to various types of cancer. They are associated with various risk factors, such as exposure to dangerous chemicals, smoking, and overexposure to sunlight.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer vary depending on various factors such as their location, length of their existence, and size. Some signs of head and neck tumors include loosening of teeth, trouble swallowing, nasal congestion, and hoarseness.

When present, these tumors can cause nosebleeds or bleeding into the throat. Although it is necessary to stop the bleeding, this type of hemorrhage is difficult to control by surgery because they are often supplied by large blood vessels. Oftentimes, in these cases, a procedure known as embolization is conducted in lieu of or in addition to surgery.

Using x-ray technology to guide the catheter to the blood vessels

Very simply, this procedure is similar to an angiogram in that it involves inserting a catheter into the leg and using x-ray technology to guide the catheter to the blood vessels that supply the head or neck tumors. Materials can then be injected to block off the blood supply.

The embolization procedure from start to finish
Prior to undergoing embolization, patients are expected to sign a consent form and will have the opportunity to have questions answered. The anesthesiologist will administer medications and fluids through the use of an intravenous line (IV) into a vein in the hand or arm. He or she will also administer general anesthesia so that the patient will be completely asleep for the procedure. Blood pressure will be monitored through an A-Line, a thin flexible tube or catheter placed in an artery in your wrist. An electrocardiogram (EKG) will monitor heart rate and rhythm as well as oxygen levels. A specific type of catheter known as a Foley will be placed in the bladder to allow urine to drain.

Once the procedure is complete, the patient will be transferred from the operating room to either the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) or the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). Here, a heart monitor will closely monitor vital signs. This machine is very sensitive and often sounds inadvertently; this is not cause for alarm. The nursing staff will assist in changing positions, but bed rest is required. Eventually, the patient can look forward to a normal diet and transfer to a room on a surgical floor. The Foley catheter will also be removed prior to leaving the bed for the first time.

Patients are expected to keep the leg that underwent surgery straight for several hours and a tube may remain in place at the puncture sight for several days. Once it is removed, the physician will apply pressure for about 20 minutes to prevent bleeding, and a device may be used to seal the puncture.

Another type of embolization procedure may be used to inject chemotherapy drugs directly into the tumor in lieu of intravenous treatment. In this procedure, the catheter is guided into the artery supplying the tumor, but the drugs are injected instead of the material that blocks off the blood supply. Recommended treatment methods will vary depending on the size, type, and location of the tumor.