For cancer patients
An SLT can assess and manage communication disorders and swallowing disorders resulting from cancer. Patients with head and neck cancer, brain cancer and even lung cancer are susceptible to speech and swallowing disorders. As such they may require speech and swallowing intervention as soon as the diagnosis is made or at some point during the treatment.
Cancer can affect the laryngeal nerves (nerves involved in voice production), causing vocal fold(s) paralysis. When that happens, your voice becomes breathy and you will not be able to speak in long sentences (as you run out of breath very easily). Vocal fold(s) paralysis can also cause swallowing problems since your vocal folds will not be able to close the airways completely during swallowing.
Due to this, mealtimes will be challenging with constant coughing, especially if the cancer affects the oral and pharyngeal cavities. Patients may experience difficulties in breaking down food and may also, cough and choke on food and drinks.
If cancer affects your speech and language area in the brain, then you may experience difficulties in communicating with others such as being unable to understand spoken language, unable to speak, or your speech becomes unclear.
Some cancer treatments can cause problems to your voice (frequency, pitch and intensity) and the ability to speak. Surgery for head or neck cancer may cause permanent changes that make communication or speaking difficult. Radiation can also cause problems ranging from short-term swelling of tissue (edema) and pain to long-term scarring and stiffening of tissue.
During a total laryngectomy, the larynx, including the vocal folds, is completely removed. A person who has had a total laryngectomy must learn new ways to speak using a different vibration source to replace the vibrations of the vocal folds.
Patients who have had radiation therapy or a partial laryngectomy can still speak using the vocal folds. There may be some changes to the quality of the voice including hoarseness, breathy voice and voice fatigue but speech therapy can help patients improve their quality of speech.
Speech and Language Therapy Techniques
At Sunway Cancer Centre, we offer personalised treatment as there are no two patients who will exhibit the same impairments and need. For example, a patient whose speech and language skills are affected will need speech and language therapy but not swallowing therapy. A patient with difficulties in swallowing will need diet modification, swallowing strategies to ensure safe swallowing, and swallowing exercises to improve the patient's swallowing functions. If the patient only has a voice problem, then voice therapy and techniques to improve the patient's voice quality will be offered.
The time required for speech and language therapy is highly dependent on the patients’ impairments, its severity, prognosis and how fast the patient responds to therapy.