Doctors Removed a Melon-Size Tumor from This Man's Neck

Surgeons at surgery table
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Doctors removed a cantaloupe-size tumor from a man's neck that was threatening to suffocate the patient, according to news reports. 

The cancerous mass measured 9 inches (23 centimeters) across and weighed between 5 and 7 lbs. (about 3 kilograms), several outlets reported.

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The man, 81-year-old Milton Wingert, had been diagnosed with a soft-tissue cancer called pleomorphic sarcoma in May, according to the Daily Mail. This type of cancer can develop in blood vessels as well as in deep skin, fat, muscle or nerve tissue, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is known for growing rapidly, usually in one part of the body, although it can spread to other locations.

At the time of the man's diagnosis, the tumor on his neck looked to be about the size of a large cherry tomato, still small enough for Wingert to conceal with a handkerchief. Over the next month, the mass swelled to the size of an apple, so Wingert visited a doctor about having the tumor removed.

The first surgeon deemed the surgery to be too risky, so Wingert sought help at a second hospital a month later, only to hear the same prognosis. The tumor had grown around the man's carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain, neck and face; and both surgeons worried that removing the mass might sever the key blood vessel.

"I kept seeing different doctors and going to different hospitals, and it kept growing and growing and getting bigger and bigger," Wingert told the New York Post. "I was getting worried, wondering when I was going to get that operation." The tumor grew steadily, soon taking on the girth of a small melon.

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Finally, earlier this month, Wingert was referred to Dr. Nazir Kahn, a head and neck surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Kahn worried that, should the tumor grow any larger, Wingert might suffocate. "It was the largest [tumor] I've ever operated on," Khan told the New York Post. He took the case and scheduled the surgery.

The procedure took place Nov. 5 and took about 7 hours to complete, which was actually faster than expected, Khan told CNN. The surgeons had not had to reconstruct regions of Wingert's neck, as they expected they might have to, he explained. Wingert is now recovering at home and is expected to undergo further cancer treatment in the next few months, according to the Daily Mail.

"I know that he's going to need further therapy, and so my training has made me cautiously optimistic in a way, because I know he still has a road to go," Kahn told CNN. "But, you know, I'm happy for him, because I know that he was very scared before the surgery … and he did well."

Wingert himself seems optimistic and gave his doctors a big thumbs-up following the operation.

"I'm going to celebrate my 82nd birthday" later this month, Wingert told the New York Post. "It's a miracle."

Originally published on Live Science. 

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Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.