Encouraging study results indicate that most people with locally advanced head or neck cancers can speak clearly and swallow comfortably after successfully undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

A retrospective study of 184 persons with advanced but treatable head or neck cancers assessed the patients’ speaking and swallowing abilities after all treatment ceased. All patients had undergone approximately 2 months of chemotherapy with carboplatin and paclitaxel, accompanied by additional chemotherapy and radiation over a 10-week period. Some persons also had minor surgery to remove simple tumors or lymph nodes from the neck.

Based on speaking and swallowing scores derived from two 4-point scales, 85% of the study participants were able to speak normally and 63% were able to swallow normally at evaluation, which occurred anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 years post-treatment (mean: 3 years post-treatment). Poorer outcomes were linked with advanced age, a history of smoking, and the presence of tumors on or near the larynx, among other factors. Although women generally had poorer speech than men after treatment, that finding may simply reflect the fact that far fewer women than men were included in the study, observed investigator Joseph K. Salama, MD, in a statement describing his group’s results, which were published in Archives of Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery (2010;136[12]:1226-1234).

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