Treatment for head and neck cancer can cause swallowing problems. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) help people who have trouble swallowing.
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Treatment for head and neck cancer can cause swallowing problems, called dysphagia (dis-FAY-juh). Head and neck cancer includes laryngeal cancer (throat cancer) and oral cancer (mouth cancer). How much trouble you may have depends on
You may have the following problems after treatment for head and neck cancer:
Surgery is often needed to treat cancer in the mouth, throat, or larynx (also called the voice box). You may need radiation therapy before or after surgery. Each type of treatment can cause swallowing problems.
Oral, or mouth, surgery can cause food or drinks to spill out of your mouth. You may have trouble chewing. It may be hard to control food and liquid in your mouth.
Throat surgery can make it hard for food and liquid to move from your mouth to your esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that goes from the back of your throat to your stomach. Your airway is next to your esophagus. After surgery, food or liquid might go into your airway instead of into your esophagus. This is called aspiration, and it can make you cough or choke, and can lead to pneumonia.
A laryngectomy is surgery to remove part or all of your larynx (voice box). It can make it hard to move food and liquid from your mouth to your esophagus.
Radiation therapy can make your mouth or throat sore. You may eat less because of the pain. You may have a dry mouth or less saliva. It may be hard to move your mouth, tongue, or throat. It may be harder to chew and move food from your mouth and throat. You may have trouble opening your mouth wide.
You may see an SLP before you have surgery or radiation. The SLP can talk to you about changes you may have in your speech and swallowing. The SLP can also give you swallowing exercises. After surgery or radiation, the SLP will watch you to see how well you eat and drink and will talk to you about the types of food you can eat and what you can drink safely. You may need softer foods or thicker liquids. You may need a feeding tube while you heal, and your doctor can help you with this choice.
The SLP can work with you to make your chewing and swallowing better. The SLP may suggest
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