Cancer Prehab for Head & Neck Survivors Improves Swallowing

Julie Silver, MD

A new study published in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery suggests that patients who begin swallowing exercises prior to undergoing chemoradiation may have better swallowing outcomes after treatment.[1] Kotz and colleagues studied twenty-six patients who were going to receive chemoradiation for head and neck cancer. The intervention group performed five targeted swallowing exercises and participated in weekly swallowing therapy sessions to encourage accurate technique and adherence to the daily exercises. The control group had no prophylactic exercises but was referred after the completion of chemoradiation for swallowing treatment if needed.

In this study, the patients who performed the pre-treatment exercises had improved swallowing function at the 3-month and 6-month mark compared to the control group. It is important to note that statistically significant differences were not evident immediately after chemoradiation or after longer time periods than 6 months.

This small cancer prehabilitation study suggests that prophylactic swallowing exercises may “fast-track” healing after chemoradiation in head and neck survivors.

[1]Kotz T, Federman AD, Kao J, Milman L, Packer S, Lopez-Prieto C, et al. Prophylactic swallowing exercises in patients with head and neck cancer undergoing chemoradiation: a randomized trial. Archives of otolaryngology–head & neck surgery. 2012;138(4):376-82. Epub 2012/04/18. doi: 10.1001/archoto.2012.187. PubMed PMID: 22508621.