A survey of variables used by speech-language pathologists to assess function and predict functional recovery in oral cancer patients

Dysphagia. 2014 Jun;29(3):376-86. doi: 10.1007/s00455-014-9520-2. Epub 2014 Mar 8.


Oromotor and clinical swallow assessments are routinely performed by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who see head and neck cancer (HNC) patients. However, the tools used to assess some of these variables vary. SLPs routinely identify and quantify abnormal functioning in order to rehabilitate the patient. However, function in terms of tongue range of motion (ROM) is typically described using a subjective severity rating scale. The primary objective of this study was to gain insight via survey into what variables SLPs consider important in assessing and documenting function after HNC treatment. A second objective was to seek feedback regarding a scale designed by the authors for assessing tongue ROM for this cohort of patients. This survey also was developed to elucidate salient factors that might have an impact on the prognosis for speech and swallow outcomes. Of the 1,816 SLPs who were sent the survey, 292 responded who work with HNC patients. Results revealed that although 95 % of SLPs assess tongue strength, only 13 % use instrumental methods. Although 98 % assess tongue ROM, 88 % estimate ROM based on clinical assessment. The majority of respondents agreed with the utility of the proposed tongue ROM rating scale. Several variables were identified by respondents as having an impact on overall prognosis for speech and swallow functioning. Tracking progress and change in function with treatment can be accomplished only with measurable assessment techniques. Furthermore, a consistent measuring system can benefit patients with other diagnoses that affect lingual mobility and strength.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Deglutition / physiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Movement*
  • Prognosis
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech-Language Pathology / methods*
  • Tongue / physiopathology*