Persons with head and neck cancer who are undergoing radiation or chemoradiation can preserve swallow function by exercising involved muscles before, during, and after treatment.

Patients receiving radiation or chemoradiation for head and neck cancer do not always retain their ability to swallow normally, even when related tissue and structure are preserved. Dysphagia is one of the most common side effects of radiation and chemoradiation, and one of the main predictors of posttreatment quality of life, according to a statement issued by the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA) in Los Angeles, California.

A group led by UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Marilene B. Wang, MD, evaluated a swallow preservation protocol (SPP) in which patients received swallow therapy before, during, and after radiation treatment for head and neck cancer. The exercises were designed to maintain the range of motion of mouth and neck muscles involved in swallowing and to counter the radiation-induced formation of excess tissue that interferes with swallowing.

As Wang and colleagues explained in Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, each patient’s diet was recorded at each SPP visit as regular (chewable), puree, liquid, or gastrostomy tube.


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A total of 57 patients were adherent and 28 were nonadherent during treatment. More patients in the adherent group were able to tolerate a regular diet (54.4%, compared with 21.4% in the nonadherent group) and were less dependent on gastrostomy tubes (22.8% vs 53.6%). The adherent group also had a higher rate of maintaining or improving diet (54.4%, compared with 25% for the nonadherent group). ONA