New, less invasive surgery used for lymphangioma tumors

Winter is here and for many of us the cold, dry weather is prime time for sore throats.

But what if your sore throat came from something much more serious than a virus?

That is what happened to a teenager and it nearly killed her, but a new surgery saved her life.

For 15-year-old Gabby Gutierrez, the symptoms started after a soccer game last April, a sore throat with a scary kick.

Gabby said, "It was like trying to swallow while having a softball and cotton balls all up in your throat, it was really difficult to even try to talk, try to drink water, try to turn my neck."

Weeks later, CT scans revealed something gabby never imagined lymphangioma. It is a tumor the size of two golf balls growing in her throat, blocking her airway.

Traditionally removing a tumor this big would mean major open surgery.

Dr. Adam Zanation, MD, is the Director of the UNC Head and Neck Robotic Surgery Program.

He said, "That means making an incision through the lip, down the neck, opening the jaw."

Gabby said, "Immediately I thought 'oh no, I'm going to be ugly!' That's the only thing that went through my mind."

But surgeons at the University of North Carolina used a new, less invasive technique, transoral robotic surgery, to go through Gabby's mouth to get the tumor out.

Dr. Zanation said, "We actually introduce this robot into the mouth and dissect this tumor out with the robot. As far as we know, this is the first pediatric case in the country."

It was a successful surgery without a single incision. It saved Gabby's face and her life.

"I always imagine what could have happened and I'm grateful for what did happen," said Gabby.

Now, just five weeks after her surgery, this young woman is feeling pretty, confident, and very, very lucky.

In most cases, lymphangioma tumors are found in children between two and five years old.

In Gabby's case, doctors say the tumor may have been there for years before it grew to the point where it became a problem.

If these tumors are not removed completely, they can come back.

This type of robotic surgery is only used in a few centers around the country.



BACKGROUND: Lymphangioma is a mass that commonly occurs in the head and neck area. It's classified as a birth defect and is also known as cystic hygroma. The facts are simple : 90% of all lymphangioma cases occur in children less than 2 years of age and develop while in the womb. A common symptom of lymphangioma is a neck mass found at birth, or discovered later in an infant after an upper respiratory tract infection. Chest x-ray, ultrasound and CT scans are all tools used to test and diagnose lymphangioma. (SOURCE:

TREATMENT: Once discovered, completely removing the tumor is the ideal goal. However, lymphangioma has been known to spread to other neck structures, making complete removal impossible. When complete removal is not possible, lymphangioma commonly returns. Head and neck tumor treatments often involve a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In many cases, surgery presents the highest chance of cure; but disfigures the face with an almost ear-to-ear incision across the throat or splitting the jaw. Complications of surgery include bleeding, damage to the neck caused by surgery, infection and return of lymphangioma. Other treatments have been attempted with only limited success including chemotherapy medications, injection of sclerosis medications, radiation therapy and steroids. (SOURCE:

NEW, LESS INVASIVE TREATMENT: FDA approved transoral robotic surgery (TORS ) can treat malignant and benign tumors of the mouth, voice box, tonsil, tongue and other parts of the throat in a less invasive manner. This robotic technique maintains functions like speech and swallowing, while traditional surgery would result in speech and swallowing deficits. (SOURCE:

APPLES TO ORANGES: TORS is a generally safer treatment than traditional lymphangioma surgery. Blood loss has been found to be very low in the majority of TORS patients with no one requiring a blood transfusion. In comparison, traditional surgery approaches have a much higher risk of requiring blood transfusions as well as an overall higher average of blood loss. Furthermore, the overall stay, regardless of surgeon preference, has been shorter for TORS patients than for those who would have otherwise undergone an open approach, with most patients staying between 5 and 7 days. (SOURE:


Stephanie Crayton
Media Relations / Broadcast Manager
UNC Health Care

Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
WNDU - Channel 16 54516 State Road 933 South Bend, IN 46637 Front Desk: 574-284-3000 Newsroom: 574-284-3016 Email:
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 113094054 -