Speech Pathology for Head and Neck Cancer

Some forms of head and neck cancer surgery may result in alterations in a person's ability to talk or swallow. In these situations, working with the speech pathologist on exercises and strategies to improve the ability to communicate or swallow will be a part of your treatment plan.

The speech pathologist will evaluate your speech and swallowing by examining the strength and movement of the muscles of your mouth and throat. In many cases, you may undergo an x-ray study of your swallowing called a modified barium swallow study. This allows the speech pathologist to analyze different consistencies and strategies while you are swallowing. From this information, the speech pathologist can make recommendations about when it is safe for you to start eating, what types of foods would be best to try, what strategies or precautions you need and what exercises or therapy you could do to improve your ability to swallow.

If you are going to have radiation after your surgery, swallowing exercise are sometimes recommended to help reduce the impact that radiation can have on the movement of structures involved with speech and swallowing.

In instances where more extensive cancer surgery is required, the speech pathologist may work with you on alternatives to verbal communication or with various forms of alaryngeal (without a voice box) communication.

Your speech pathologist is available at any time during your treatment program. If you have questions about speech or swallowing prior to your treatment, you can meet ahead of time with the speech pathologist to discuss your questions. In many instances, the speech pathologist will also be involved in your clinic follow-up after surgery. The speech pathologist working at the Virginia Mason Otolaryngology Department in Seattle can be reached at (206) 223-6374.