Dysphagia in head and neck cancer patients treated with radiotherapy and systemic therapies: Literature review and consensus

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2015 Nov;96(2):372-84. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2015.06.005. Epub 2015 Jun 19.


Background: Head and neck cancer (HNC) and its therapy are associated with acute and late swallowing dysfunction. Consensus guidelines regarding evaluation and management are lacking. To address this gap, a multidisciplinary team of experts (oncologists, practitioners, deglutologists, etc.) met in Milan 17-18 February 2013 with the aim of reaching a consensus on the management of swallowing difficulties in HNC patients treated with radiotherapy with or without systemic therapies (such as chemotherapy and targeted agents). The consensus was focused particularly on those statements with limited evidence. The results of the literature review and the statements that obtained a consensus are reported and discussed in this paper.

Materials and methods: The Delphi Appropriateness Method was used for this consensus. External expert reviewers then evaluated the conclusions carefully according to their area of expertise.

Results: This paper contains 6 clusters of statements about the management of swallowing problems in radio-treated HNC patients and a review of the recent literature on these topics.

Conclusions: Dysphagia assessment and its management are difficult and require a multi-team cooperation (ENT specialists, radiation and medical oncologists, deglutologists, etc.).

Keywords: Chemotherapy; Deglutition; Dysphagia; Head and neck cancer; Radiation oncology; Radiotherapy; Swallowing dysfunction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology*
  • Deglutition Disorders / therapy*
  • Delphi Technique
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects