Can Large Facial Tumor Be Removed Safely?

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Playing Woman with Large Facial Tumor Searches for Help

Angie was combing her hair seven years ago when she noticed a small lump behind her right ear.

Over the years, she saw several doctors who told her it was a lymph node or that it was benign and there was no need to be concerned.

But as the lump grew from the size of an almond to the size of a grapefruit, Angie became increasingly anxious.

“When it first appeared, no one noticed, because it was just a small lump,” she says. “Now, if somebody sees it, they gasp.”

Angie says the growth has affected her relationships with her children and her husband. She sits in the car at her 9-year-old daughter's soccer games and tries to cover the growth with her hair when she does have to go out in public.

"I always keep my head down," Angie says. "I used to go to ballgames, and I used to be so out-going. I don't want people looking at me anymore. It's just changed who I am."

Angie visits Osborne Head and Neck Institute in Los Angeles for a consultation with head and neck surgical oncologist Dr. Ryan Osborne and facial plastic reconstruction surgeon Dr. Jason Hamilton.

“Our job, working together, is to get the tumor out and make sure your facial nerves are protected,” Dr. Hamilton says. "And, then, my job is to come in and make it look like no one was ever there.”

They tell Angie they will review her records and consider whether they can safely perform the surgery to remove the tumor.

Angie, along with Dr. Osborne and Dr. Hamilton, sits down with ER physician Dr. Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon a few days after the emotional consultation.

Dr. Osborne explains that the tumor is not malignant. But, he says, "It's having malignant characteristics. It's robbing her of her ability to interact with her family, to interact with society."

Dr. Osborne and Dr. Hamilton explain that the risk of removing the tumor is complete permanent facial paralysis. They also explain that if they are able to remove the tumor, Angie would have excess skin and tissue left behind, so Dr. Hamilton would perform reconstructive surgery to reduce the appearance of any sagging or scarring.

"If we just took the tumor out, and she's still stuck at home, because she's embarrassed about the way she looks, then I wouldn't feel like we have accomplished anything," Dr. Hamilton says.

Despite the serious risks, Angie says she feels as though a weight has been lifted off her shoulders after meeting with Dr. Osborne and Dr. Hamilton. She tells them she's ready to move forward with the surgery.

The two doctors reveal they are willing to perform the procedures and the institute's non-profit organization will cover the cost.

 "This is why you never give up hope, folks,” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork says.