Effects of xerostomia on perception and performance of swallow function




Head and neck cancer treatment with high-dose chemoradiation may cause xerostomia and affect the patient's perception of swallowing ability.


Whole saliva production was measured in 36 patients with advanced-stage cancer of the oropharynx before treatment and 3 months after treatment by weighing a 4 × 4 inch gauze before and after a 2-minute chewing period. Presence of multiple eating difficulties was measured by patient interview. Swallowing was examined videofluorographically (VFG).


Saliva weight decreased from a mean (SEM) of 5.1 (0.5) g pretreatment to 1.4 (0.5) g after treatment (p< .0001). At 3 months, significantly more patients perceived difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, needing water while eating, food stuck in the mouth or throat, and change in taste. Saliva weight was not correlated with VFG measures of bolus transit or observations of residue.


Chemoradiation treatment results in xerostomia and a significant increase in patient perception of swallowing difficulties. Saliva weight in patients who perceive swallowing problems was lower. Xerostomia did not affect the physiologic aspects of bolus transport. Xerostomia affected the sensory process and comfort of eating more than bolus transport. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Head Neck 23: 317–321, 2001.