Our Mission

Our mission is to treat patients with malignant and benign tumors of the head and neck. The combined goal of the Head and Neck Surgery Center is to eradicate cancer while maintaining quality of life issues such as speech and swallowing function.

Our Philosophy

We are sensitive to the multiple needs of the head and neck cancer patient, so each patient is seen by a team of doctors, including head and neck surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and oromaxillofacial surgeons. Because the head and neck contains many structures vital to daily functions of speech, swallowing, and breathing, the head and neck cancer patient faces many complex issues. Speech pathologists, nutritionists, and audiologists further assist in caring for the head and neck cancer patient to minimize treatment side effects.

As a member of the University of Illinois Chicago Cancer Center, the Head and Neck Surgery Center participates in local and national clinical trials for eligible head and neck cancer patients. The University of Illinois Cancer Center is committed to research on the treatment of oral cancer, and has designated oral cancer treatment as one of the three main foci of the Cancer Center resources. The head and neck surgeon coordinates the care of the head and neck cancer patient. Multidisciplinary coordination allows our patients to benefit from the expertise of the entire Head and Neck Oncology team and to receive cutting edge therapy, including Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy and clinical trials involving medications that reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

How You Can Help

Some of our patients have lost their ability to speak. There is a small plastic device called a TEP. It gives patients who have lost their voice box due to cancer a chance to speak again. But Medicare and many forms of private insurance don’t cover TEPs. The cost of a TEP is about $300 each. That cost, along with the need to replace a TEP annually (if not more frequently) adds up. You can help these patients literally regain their speech by contributing to the One Voice Fund, a foundation committed solely to restore patient’s ability to speak again.

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

Voice disorders occur in 1 out of 10 Americans. They can be associated with vocal overuse or abuse, they can be related to increased stress, or they can be associated with digestive tract problems such as acid reflux. Occasionally, they are an early sign of neurological disease or throat cancer. Voice problems include hoarseness, breathiness, vocal fatigue, or the use of a voice that is too low or too high in pitch. A voice that is too loud or too soft can also be problematic. Sometimes the voice spasms or breaks, such as in the rare voice disorder, spasmodic dysphonia. UIC speech pathologists work in conjunction with otolaryngologists, who first examine the laryngeal mechanism (throat) to determine the presence of any laryngeal pathology that might account for the voice disorder. They can also determine whether or not acid reflux is occurring. Medical and/or surgical treatment can then be planned. If no pathology is found requiring immediate surgical management, patients with be referred to an experienced speech pathologist for voice therapy. Usually, within 3-6 months, normal voice is restored. For additional information about treatment for voice disorders, please contact the UIC Voice Center at 312-413-8821.

Evaluation of swallowing disorders is completed through Clinical Swallow Evaluations and Videofluoroscopic Swallow Studies. The clinical evaluation allows the speech pathologist to observe the patient, often during meal times for inpatients and through administering food items to outpatients, to determine the safety and appropriateness of oral feeding. This type of evaluation may provide key information regarding the patients oral motor function, swallow function, and ability to comply with recommended swallow guidelines. The videofluoroscopic swallow study is completed in conjunction with the Department of Radiology. This assessment allows the speech pathologist to further evaluate the oral and pharyngeal swallow in real time with the use of fluoroscopic X-ray. Videoswallow studies are often recommended if a patient demonstrates clinical signs/ symptoms of aspiration during a clinical evaluation or is having difficulty tolerating a recommended diet. Both the Clinical and Videofluoroscopic Swallow Studies are useful in the planning and implementation of diet recommendations, swallow guidelines, and swallowing therapy as needed. With additonal questions, please contact Caroline Deskin or Kim Hobart