Carinda Stout, MS CCC/SLP
April is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month:
Treatment for oral, head, and neck cancer can cause swallowing problems. Head and neck cancer includes oral cancer and laryngeal cancer. How much trouble you may have depends on the type of cancer, surgical intervention, and other treatments needed such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Signs of Swallowing Problems After Head and Neck Cancer
the need to swallow many times to clear food from your mouth and throat
a gurgly, wet-sounding voice after swallowing
coughing or choking during and after eating/drinking
throat clearing while eating
pain when swallowing
dry mouth or throat
Causes of Swallowing Problems After Head and Neck Cancer:
Oral, or mouth, surgery can cause food or drinks to spill out of the mouth, difficulty controlling food and liquid in the mouth, and trouble chewing.
Throat surgery can make it hard for food and liquid to move from the mouth to the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that goes from the back of your throat to your stomach. The airway is next to your esophagus. After surgery, food or liquid might enter the airway instead of into the esophagus, called aspiration.
A laryngectomy is surgery to remove part or all of the voice box. It can make it difficult to move food and liquid from the mouth to the esophagus.
Radiation therapy can make the mouth or throat sore and cause a dry mouth or less saliva. It may be hard to move the mouth, tongue, or throat. It may be harder to chew and move food from the mouth and throat.