Speech, Voice, and Resonance Secondary to Head & Neck Cancers and their Treatments

Persons undergoing treatments for cancer can have many different types of communication problems, including speech sound articulation disorders related to surgical removal of oral cavity cancers; hoarsenessor voice loss following removal of all or part of the larynx or voice box; and too much nasal resonance(hypernasality) following surgical removal of part of the soft palate. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also result in difficulty speaking clearly, due to oral cavity changes in saliva, tongue mobility and sensation. These treatments may also cause hoarseness or voice changes due to throat dryness or increased acid reflux. Speech pathologists assist patients in achieving the best speech sound articulation, voice and resonance possible following treatments. Speech and/or voice exercises as well as changes in lifestyle may be assigned to improve speech and voice production. In addition, speech pathologists work closely with otolaryngologists to treat voice disorders, sometimes requiring medical or surgical management. They may also work with maxillofacial prosthodontists to fabricate palatal prostheses to assist in improving speech sound articulation and/or palatal function following treatments.

Head & neck cancer treatments may also result in swallowing disorders. (See section on “Evaluation and Treatment for Swallowing Disorders” below.) Speech pathologists incorporate swallowing treatment for patients into the speech therapy sessions. For more information about these disorders and their treatments, contact Caroline Deskin at cdeskin@uic.edu.