Strategies to reduce long-term postchemoradiation dysphagia in patients with head and neck cancer: an evidence-based review

Head Neck. 2014 Mar;36(3):431-43. doi: 10.1002/hed.23251. Epub 2013 Jul 4.


Background: Swallowing dysfunction following chemoradiation for head and neck cancer is a major cause of morbidity and reduced quality of life. This review discusses 3 strategies that may improve posttreatment swallowing function.

Methods: The literature was assessed by a multiauthor team that produced evidence-based recommendations.

Results: (1) Prospective and randomized studies with small cohorts show a trend toward benefits for a preventative exercise program addressing oral and pharyngeal structures. (2) Prospective and retrospective data indicate that better swallowing outcomes are likely when nasogastric tubes are used in preference to gastrostomy tubes to supplement enteral nutrition during chemoradiation. (3) Emerging prospective data with mature results on small cohorts support the hypothesis that radiation dose restriction to swallowing structures using intensity-modulated radiation therapy techniques leads to better swallow outcomes.

Conclusions: This study discusses 3 strategies for improving swallow-related outcomes in patients undergoing chemoradiation for head and neck cancer and identifies areas for future research.

Keywords: IMRT; chemoradiation; dysphagia; swallowing exercise; tube feeding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemoradiotherapy*
  • Deglutition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Deglutition Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Enteral Nutrition*
  • Exercise Therapy* / methods
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated
  • Treatment Outcome