Dysphagia in Solid Tumors Outside the Head, Neck or Upper GI Tract: Clinical Characteristics

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2022 Dec;64(6):546-554. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2022.08.019. Epub 2022 Sep 2.


Context: Dysphagia is common in cancer, but underlying pathophysiology and manifestations within patients are unknown.

Objectives: To examine dysphagia characteristics in those with solid malignancies outside the head, neck and upper gastrointestinal tract.

Methods: Seventy-three individuals with dysphagia (46 male, 27 female, aged 37-91) were recruited from a parent trial conducted in two acute hospitals and one hospice. Cranial nerve function, Oral Health Assessment Tool (OHAT), Mann Assessment of Swallowing Ability (MASA) and Functional Oral Intake Scale (FOIS) evaluated swallow profile.

Results: Only 9/73 (12%) had documented dysphagia prior to study enrollment. MASA risk ratings found n=61/73 (84%) with dysphagia risk and n=22/73 (30%) with aspiration risk. Food texture modification was required for n=34/73 (47%), fluid texture modification for n=1/73 (1%). Compensatory strategies for food were needed by n=13/73 (18%) and for fluids by n=24/73 (33%). Cranial nerve deficits were present in n=43/73 (59%). Oral health problems were common, with xerostomia in two-thirds. Worse dysphagia on MASA was associated with disease progression, affecting hospice, and palliative care the most. Worse performance status was indicative of poorer MASA raw score (P<0.001, OR 2.2, 95% CI 1.5-3.4), greater risk of aspiration (P=0.005, OR 2.1, 95% CI 1.3-3.6) and lower FOIS (P=0.004, OR 2.0, 95% CI 1.2-3.2).

Conclusion: Dysphagia management in those with cancer requires robust assessment to uncover clinically important needs like food texture modification and safe swallowing advice. Better assessment tools should be developed for this purpose. Oral health problems should be routinely screened in this population since they exacerbate dysphagia.

Keywords: Cancer; Diagnosis; Dysphagia; Neoplasms; Palliative care; Solid tumors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Deglutition / physiology
  • Deglutition Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Deglutition Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Deglutition Disorders* / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms*
  • Palliative Care
  • Upper Gastrointestinal Tract*