Objectives: Dysphagia is commonly associated with head and neck cancer treatment. Traditional dysphagia management strategies focus on post-treatment therapy. This study evaluated the utility of pretreatment swallowing exercises in improving post-treatment swallowing quality of life (QOL).
Study Design: Prospective cohort study and cross-sectional QOL analysis.
Methods: This study includes 37 patients who underwent primary radiation or combined chemoradiation treatment for newly diagnosed hypopharyngeal, laryngeal, or oropharyngeal primary tumors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Of the 37, 25 patients underwent swallowing exercises beginning 2 weeks prior to the start of radiation. The M.D. Anderson Dysphagia Inventory (MDADI) was administered an average of 14 months after treatment to assess the success of the protocol. Analysis of QOL scores related to gender, primary site, stage, and race were obtained.
Results: Patients who performed pretreatment swallowing exercises (n = 25) showed improvement in the overall MDADI score (P = .0002) compared to the control population (n = 12) who underwent post-treatment therapy. Furthermore, a separate analysis of individual domains of the MDADI (global, emotional, functional, and physical) demonstrated improved quality of life.
Conclusions: Implementation of pretreatment swallowing education and exercise may improve dysphagia-specific QOL in head and neck cancer patients undergoing radiation and/or chemoradiation therapy.