Tony Gwynn recuperating after cancer surgery in cheek


Following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in baseball icon Tony Gwynn’s right cheek, doctors said initial indications are the cancer has not spread, but added he might not regain function in that area for 18 months.

On Tuesday, a team of UC San Diego Health System doctors, led by surgeons Robert Weisman, MD, director of the Head and Neck Oncology, and Jeffrey Harris, MD, chief of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, performed a complicated surgical procedure on Hall of Fame outfielder at UC San Diego Thornton Hospital

The process was done in three main stages. First, Dr. Weisman removed the cancerous growth and scar tissue from previous therapies that had encased the nerve that controls facial movement on the right side of Mr. Gwynn’s face. The tumor mass was so intertwined with the nerve, it had to be removed as well, so that potential spread of the tumor would be avoided.

The second stage of Mr. Gwynn’s surgery involved Dr. Harris’ grafting a nerve from Gwynn’s neck to the remaining main branches of the facial nerve both in the face and in the temporal bone of the skull behind his ear. Over time, as the branches of that nerve grow into Mr. Gwynn’s face, the facial movement will begin to return.

The third stage of the procedure was to then reconstruct the defect left after the tumor removal.

While everything went extremely well and Mr. Gwynn is in good spirits, it is too early to forecast how successful the outcome will be. Initial indications are that the cancer has not spread. This type of cancer is very rare, accounting for less than one percent of all head and neck cancers. It could take up to 18 months for Mr. Gwynn to regain movement and function on the right side of his face.

If the growth is benign, Gwynn will return to his coaching duties in about one month, according to ESPN.

The Aztecs’ season opener is Friday against the University of Washington at Tony Gwynn Stadium. The school did not have immediate comment.