Importance of swallow exercises during throat cancer treatment

December 15, 2014 Namou Kim, MD, FACS

In the past decade, there has been a significant increase of “throat” cancers (tonsil and base of tongue squamous cell carcinoma) in younger patients, especially in non-smoking, Caucasian males. This type of cancer is caused by the high-risk HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and tends to have a better cancer survival than conventional tobacco-related throat cancers. This improved survival is aided by precision targeted radiation and transoral robotic surgery (DaVinci Robotic System). However, some of the side effects of these treatments can cause significant decrease in the quality of life.

All patients who undergo radiation or chemoradiation to the throat will have some degree of dry mouth and taste alteration. It is unavoidable and part of the journey of fighting cancer.

Another side effect is difficulty in swallowing, but it can be minimized with good preventive measures. Swallowing involves many muscles inside the mouth and throat. Radiation causes fibrosis (scarring) of those muscles so it’s important to keep exercising them to keep them functioning properly.

At Swedish Cancer Institute, all new throat cancer patients have a pre-therapy consultation with our dedicated Speech & Swallow expert. Patients are instructed and counseled about the importance of swallow exercises to be done during and after radiation to minimize some of the radiation fibrosis.

Eating is one of life’s pleasures and maintaining the capability to feed by mouth after cancer therapy is of the utmost importance.

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