A speech pathologist is a specialist who can help educate you and your family about ways to minimize the effects of head and neck cancer and its treatment. Because the cancer and its treatment often affect the ability to talk and eat, the speech pathologist evaluates any speech and swallowing difficulties, and provides therapy as needed.
Why would you need a speech pathologist?
- If you are having difficulty eating and/or swallowing (dysphagia)
- If you are having difficulty with your voice (how your voice sounds) and/or need a voice prosthesis (TEP), electrolarynx, or voice amplifier, etc.
- If you are having difficulty with your speech (the ability to pronounce or form words)
- If you are going to undergo mouth, throat, or neck surgery
- If you are going to undergo radiation therapy
What does a speech pathologist do?
- Helps you understand the structures and functions involved in eating and talking
- Helps teach you about your surgery and how it may affect your ability to talk and/or eat
- Helps teach you about your radiation therapy and how it may affect your ability to talk and/or eat
- Assesses you for any difficulties you may already have with talking and eating
- Monitors you for changes in your ability to talk and eat after surgery and/or while you are going through radiation therapy
- Teaches you exercises and strategies to help you maintain or regain the ability to talk and eat
When should you expect to see a speech pathologist?
- Prior to starting radiation therapy and then throughout your treatment
- Prior to your surgery
- After surgery while you are in the hospital
- Ongoing brief follow-up as needed in the Ear, Nose, Throat clinic
- Scheduled appointments in outpatient clinic for continued therapy as needed
Self-monitoring: when to call your speech pathologist
- If you notice changes in your ability to perform the exercises/maneuvers on your home exercise program
- If swallowing is getting difficult or is changing
- If you are unable to use your voice or if your voice is changing
- If your TEP (voice prosthesis) has been leaking and you are not able to get it to stop with any amount of flushing or brushing
- If your TEP is too loose and is moving around a lot
Side effects of radiation
- Tightness or hardening of the muscles and tissues in your neck (fibrosis) with decreased range of motion
- Throat or neck tenderness and pain
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), increased difficulty swallowing, or inability to swallow
- Pain with swallowing (odynophagia)
- Mouth sores
- Dry mouth (xerostomia)
- Copious and/or thick mouth secretions
- Tightening or narrowing in the throat and/or esophagus (stricture)