Vocal Fold Paralysis as a Delayed Consequence of Neck and Chest Radiotherapy

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Aug;153(2):239-43. doi: 10.1177/0194599815583476. Epub 2015 Apr 30.


Objective: To describe a series of cases of vocal fold paralysis years after radiation therapy, including presentation, clinical course, and treatment.

Study design: Case series with chart review.

Setting: Tertiary care center.

Subjects and methods: A review of 8 years of patient records yielded 10 patients (8 male and 2 female; average age 57 years [range, 29-76 years]) with vocal fold paralysis and a history of radiation therapy to the head, neck, or mediastinum. These patients did not have other possible etiologies of vocal fold paralysis. Demographic, diagnostic, clinical course, and treatment data were collected.

Results: On average, 21 years (range, 1-27 years) elapsed between completion of radiation and presentation with vocal fold paralysis. Original pathologies included Hodgkin lymphoma (5), squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (4), and peripheral T-cell lymphoma (1). Eight patients had unilateral left vocal fold paralysis, and 2 had bilateral neuropathy; none recovered spontaneously. All patients had dysphonia, and nearly all patients also complained of dysphagia. Six elected not to be treated. Four underwent injection augmentation with resolution of voice complaints.

Conclusions: Radiation therapy has the potential to cause laryngeal neuropathy years to decades after treatment. The potential for recovery is low, but injection augmentation can relieve symptoms. Development of contralateral neuropathy and altered tissue response are considerations in treatment.

Keywords: delayed cranial neuropathy; laryngeal neuropathy; radiation therapy; vocal fold injection; vocal fold paralysis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Hodgkin Disease / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / radiotherapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Factors
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis / etiology*
  • Vocal Cords / radiation effects