Cancers that affect the jaw are treatable, but often at a cost–the patient loses a significant amount of the bone structure that both defines the way they look and the way they talk.
Up to now, surgeons could rebuild portions of the jaw removed as part of cancer treatment by using part of the patient’s fibula. However, that method could result in misshapen jawlines or difficulty in inserting dental implants.
As with other similar medical implants, 3D printing has enabled surgeons at Swansea’s Morriston Hospital in Wales to create custom structures that can help rebuild the jawlines of cancer patients. The hospital uses 3D-printed titanium implants (combined with bone grafts) that are custom built to fit each patient.
The first patient to receive an implant was Debbie Hawkins, a Swansea native who lost part of her jaw after having a large tumor removed. The hospital was able to use CT scan images to create an anatomically accurate implant that fixes the fibula bone graft in place. It also maintains the natural shape of the patient’s jawline.
“The titanium implant fits the patient’s jaw perfectly without the surgeon having to do any adjustment,” said Peter Llewelyn Evans, maxillofacial laboratory services manager at Morriston Hospital.
The hospital has now performed five of these procedures. Using custom-built implants has also saved time during surgery.
“It has taken away the uncertainty. We know exactly what is going to happen before we go into theatre as everything is computer planned,” said surgeon Madhav Kittur. “This can save a lot of time – up to two hours. On average this operation takes eight to 10 hours, so when we take two hours out of that it is quite a sizable reduction.”
Earlier this year, the hospital created a new biomedical 3D technician position, which is believed to be the first such designation in the UK National Health Service (NHS). Technician Heather Goodrum helps physicians plan reconstruction surgery and design implants and cutting guides using 3D printing.