How Swallowing Exercises May Help Head and Neck Cancer Patients Recover Quickly

A recent publication from the journal Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery reports how a team of doctors and researchers from the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has developed a “swallow therapy” that is believed to significantly improve the quality of life of head and neck cancer patients after their respective treatments.

Dr. Marilene Wang, who spearheaded the five-year study, created a set of swallowing exercises for patients suffering from head and neck cancer. She is a member of JCCC and a professor-in-residence in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

The Swallow Preservation Protocol (SPP), as this set of exercises is called, is shown to have promising results. A number of patients undergoing swallow therapy, before and all throughout the treatment process, were assessed by taking note of their swallowing ability two weeks before a procedure.

The exercises were designed to prevent excessive tissue formation caused by radiation therapy, which can often affect, if not lose, the patient’s swallowing ability.However, the primary purpose of the SPP is geared towards the preservation of the patient’s mouth and neck muscles’ range of motion, which is associated with swallowing.

The results of the study showed that patients who followed the SPP were able to return to their normal diet faster than those who did not. They were also less likely to experience unwanted side effects such as throat stenosis. Some patients find it hard to eat properly because of their narrowed throat passage, where doctors sometimes have no choice but to place feeding tubes to aid the patients in eating.

Patients only need to fully commit to the exercises with the help of their friends loved ones as well as their supervising medical staff. It’s a weekly program monitored by trained staff and has been showing a positive effect for the participating patients.

A Closer Look at Dysphagia

It is a momentous feat to survive cancer, but the sad news is that many of these survivors have no choice but to live their lives experiencing so many short and long-term side effects of cancer treatment. Difficulty in swallowing, also called as dysphagia, is one of the most undesirable side effects of radiation and chemoradiation therapies among head and neck cancer patients. The creation of the SPP is a step in the right direction in terms of improving the quality of life of patients after treatment.