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 may be needed to treat cancer in the mouth, throat, or larynx. 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 move around or 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 moves food or liquid 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 possibly lead to pneumonia. You might also feel like food moves more slowly or gets stuck in your throat.
A laryngectomy is surgery to remove part or all of your larynx. It may be harder to start your swallow and push foods or liquids down to the 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 swallowing. The SLP can also give you swallowing exercises. After surgery or radiation, the SLP will test your swallowing skills and will discuss changes that may have occurred to your eating and drinking. They may also discuss risks of eating or drinking certain types of food or liquid and may recommend that you eat softer foods or drink thicker liquids.
Your doctor may recommend that you use a feeding tube while you heal if you are not able to eat and drink enough by mouth or if food and/or drink is being aspirated. You can discuss your options with your doctor.
The SLP can work with you to make your chewing and swallowing better. The SLP may suggest
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