Eating, Swallowing Exercises Help Patients with Pharyngeal Cancers Fare Better


 Patients with pharyngeal (throat) cancers who continue to eat and do swallowing exercises throughout radiotherapy (RT) or chemoradiotherapy (CRT) fared better than those patients who did not, according to a study published Online First by JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

The incidence of pharyngeal cancer is on the rise with almost 14,000 new cases projected to occur in the United States this year. Radiation treatment can make swallowing difficult and swallowing exercises aimed at eating can prevent the weakness that can occur after periods of not swallowing by patients, according to the study background.

Katherine A. Hutcheson, Ph.D., of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, and colleagues examined the effects of maintaining eating and adhering to swallowing exercises in a study of 497 patients treated for pharyngeal cancer between 2002 and 2008.

Fifty-eight percent of patients (n=286) reported following swallowing exercises and at the end of treatment 74 percent were able to maintain eating (167 partial oral intake and 199 full oral intake). Eating and swallowing exercises during treatment also were associated with better long-term diets after treatment and a shorter time being dependent on a feeding tube, according to the results.

“Long-term swallowing outcomes were best in patients who both maintained full PO [oral intake] throughout RT or CRT and reported adherence to swallowing exercises and uniformly worst in those who were NPO [not eating] status at the end of treatment and non-adherent to the exercise regimen,” the study concludes. “Our findings, in concert with those of prior rigorous trials, offer support for early referral to the speech pathologist to begin proactive swallowing therapy before definitive RT or CRT.”

(JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online September 19, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2013.4715.

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