If you undergo treatment for head or neck cancer, you may experience difficulty swallowing, a condition named dysphagia.
Research has shown that exercise during cancer treatment may help minimize and prevent swallowing complications. Ask your doctor about a referral to the Mizzou Therapy Services Cancer Rehabilitation clinic at Ellis Fischel.
What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is another word for a swallowing disorder. A person with this condition may experience difficulty swallowing food, liquid or saliva. Some people with dysphagia are unable to swallow at all. Dysphagia is common and therapy can often help patients manage or lessen their symptoms.
Symptoms of dysphagia can include:
- Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
- Wet, gurgled voice quality after eating or drinking
- Frequent throat clearing while eating or drinking
- Swallowing multiple times to get food down
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty starting a swallow
- Trouble clearing food from the mouth or throat after swallowing
- Sensation of food sticking in the throat or chest
- Heartburn or chest pain
If not treated, dysphagia may cause pneumonia or other respiratory problems, choking or airway obstruction, malnutrition, dehydration, weight loss, oral yeast infections (thrush or candida) and dental cavities.
What does speech and language rehabilitation include?
If you undergo speech therapy, your rehabilitation may include:
- Preoperative counseling if you will undergo surgery
- Swallowing tests
- Management of dysphagia
- Assessment and training with an artificial larynx or electrolarynx
- Tracheoesophageal voice prosthesis (TEP), a device that helps deliver air from the lungs into the esophagus
What tests may be used?
To provide the best diagnosis and treatment for your swallowing disorder, your speech- language pathologist may recommend or guide you through swallowing tests. These could include:
- Modified barium swallow (MBS), a procedure to determine if food or liquid is entering your lungs (known as aspiration)
- Clinical swallow evaluation
- Fiber optic endoscopic evaluation of swallow (FEES), in which a thin, flexible instrument called a scope is placed in your mouth and down your throat to look at your esophagus
Your clinical team
The speech-language pathologists at Mizzou Therapy Services and Ellis Fischel Cancer are highly trained and experienced in the complications of head and neck cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment. They specialize in the evaluation and management of speech and swallow disorders related to cancer, including patients who have undergone total laryngectomies.
For more information or to make an appointment, please call 573-884-4774.