Head and Neck Cancer

People may experience communication problems arising from:

  • The presence of a cancer in the mouth, head or neck.
  • The effects of surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy on normal communication and/or swallowing function. Difficulties will depend on the type of treatment and extent of the disease.

Recognised characteristics of Head & Neck Cancer that affect communication include:

  • Dysarthria (articulation difficulty)
  • Dysphonia (voice problems)
  • Dysphagia (swallowing difficulties)
  • The need for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
  • Speech/voice difficulties following laryngectomy (surgical removal of the voice-box because of laryngeal cancer)

Speech and language therapists are often involved with multi-professional teams working with Head & Neck Cancer pre- and post-operatively, and during rehabilitation. Therapy may begin prior to treatment, depending on the nature of the disease and planned treatment. Management strategies will be given, and reviewed at different stages of the treatment process.

The following may form part of speech therapy input for people with Head & Neck Cancer:

  • Pre-treatment assessment and counselling
  • Swallowing management advice
  • Exercises for lips, tongue, palate, jaw, face
  • Speech and voice programmes
  • Assessment and trials of augmentative and alternative communication aids (AAC)
  • Advice to carers
  • In addition, anyone who has had a laryngectomy will require support from a specialist speech therapist working as part of an ENT multi-disciplinary team

Some points you may wish to discuss with any therapist you contact:

  • Have they worked at a recognised specialist Head & Neck Cancer centre?
  • Have they worked at specialist level with individuals receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy, or who have undergone surgery to the head and neck (including reconstructive surgery)?
  • Do they have close links with Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) and Oral-Maxillofacial Surgeons, and Head & Neck Oncologists (cancer specialists)?
  • Do they have access to specialist swallowing (dysphagia) assessment?
  • In the case of laryngectomy, have they worked with Surgical Voice Restoration and other communication rehabilitation methods?
  • What additional qualifications and experience do they have relevant to Head & Neck Cancer? (E.g. Are they members of any relevant specific interest groups?)
  • If you are already receiving care from another speech and language therapist who is part of a multidisciplinary team, you will want to discuss this with the independent therapist you approach.
  • Where the therapist sees people for assessment/therapy.
  • How much the therapist charges for assessment and/or regular therapy.

Click here to search for Speech Therapists in your area with Head and Neck Cancer as a specialty.

Last updated: January 26th, 2018