Head & Neck Cancer

Cancer of the tongue, tonsil, throat, larynx or other structures of the head and neck can affect ease of communication and swallowing. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can offer exercise and training to optimize function during and after treatment.

Swallowing and Head & Neck Cancer

Many patients with tumors in the mouth or throat have difficult or painful swallowing. A SLP can assess the swallow to determine safe food consistencies and provide recommendations for improvement.

If cancer is treated with surgery, a SLP can determine what consistencies of food and liquid are safe to swallow. It is likely that swallowing strategies and exercises can improve swallowing skills. 

If cancer is treated primarily with radiation therapy and /or chemotherapy, it is common to develop difficulty swallowing. It is often helpful to continue to eat and drink during treatment if able to safely swallow. A SLP may recommend exercises to move the jaw, tongue and larynx during treatment in order to minimize decline in swallow function.

Speech Therapy After Laryngectomy

If surgery removes the entire larynx, a SLP can assist an individual in learning a new way to communicate. There are several methods of achieving oral communication. 

Some individuals communicate with an electorlarynx. This is a battery operated device placed on the cheek or neck while talking. The device provides vibration that can be shaped into words. 

Some individuals learn esophageal speech. In this method, air is trapped from the mouth or nose and pushed to the esophagus to be released for speech. 

Many patients use a special voice prosthesis that allows lung air to be directed into the esophagus. A SLP places the voice prosthesis and instructs patients in using it to communicate. 

Speech Therapy After Oral Surgery

If a portion of the tongue or other oral structures are removed, many individuals have difficulty speaking and / or swallowing. A SLP asses those changes and recommends a treatment program specific to each patient’s needs. Patients may be given lip and tongue exercises to improve speech and swallowing skills.

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is an abnormal buildup of fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms or legs, but can affect any body region. The condition develops when lymph vessels or lymph nodes are under-developed, damaged or removed. It also can be related to vascular dysfunctions. It is a chronic, progressive condition that places patients at risk for enlarged limbs and skin infections. While there is not cure, lymphedema can be managed with proper care and complete decongestive therapy.

What causes lymphedema?

Lymphedema can be the result of:

  • Surgery
  • Trauma
  • Disease
  • Radiation therapy
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Vascular disorders
  • Obesity
  • Lymphatic system birth defect

How is it treated?

Lymphedema is treated with Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). CDT typically involves three to eight weeks of outpatient therapy and the use of custom-fit compression garments.

Treatment includes:

  • Specialized Manual Lymph Drainage: Helps fluid to drain, to reabsorb back into tissues and helps to reduce swelling.
  • Compression Bandaging /Garments: Affect limb(s) is wrapped with a specialized compression bandage system which encourages lymph flow out of the limb. Once the fluid reduces, the patient may be fit with a custom compression garment designed for long-term use. 
  • Exercise Programs: Specifically designed to help control swelling and improve function.
  • Skin Care: Prevent skin infection and help heal damaged skin through a variety of wound care products.
  • Education and self-care strategies: Learn how to control swelling and ways to improve quality of life through an individual home program.

Results

Patients who follow recommended treatment guidelines and who use custom-fit compression garments typically see:

  • Swelling reduced to normal or near-normal size
  • Wounds healed and reduced risk of future skin infections
  • Softened skin texture and improved skin health
  • Improved function of the affected limb
  • Improved quality of life through effective control of the swelling 
  • Improved ability to walk or perform daily tasks
  • Improved fit of clothing