Studying Radiation-Associated Dysphagia in Head and Neck Cancer Patients
New therapies, however, carry new risks. Studies have shown up to 70 percent of head and neck cancer patients treated with radiation therapy report moderate to severe dysphagia, interrupting their abilities to eat or drink. UW Health otolaryngology chair and head and neck surgeon Timothy McCulloch, MD, is examining ways those patients can regain their ability to swallow.
"Many tumors in the voice box and throat are very susceptible to radiation, which makes it an effective tool for head and neck cancers," Dr. McCulloch says. "Unfortunately, the treatments can prevent the mucosal tissue from replenishing and healing, leading to stiffer tissue, scar banding and muscles that don't move as they should - or at all."
The randomized clinical trial compares results of aggressive exercise plus electrical stimulation versus exercise alone, with the electrodes providing monitoring and guidance for the exercise therapy. Dr. McCulloch says that anecdotal evidence suggests that the benefit may occur with either approach, and this study will give a clearer idea of whether or not that is true.
"Patients in both groups will place the electrodes, but one will get monitoring and the low-dose stimulation, while the other will just get the monitoring and guidance," he says.
Dysphagia Study Requirements
"The key to the study, as well as the treatment, is patients who are motivated and independent in their therapy," Dr. McCulloch says. "It's uncertain how broad a benefit neuromuscular electrical stimulation may have, but with patients dedicated to improving their swallow function, we have a good chance of finding out."
For more information about the dysphagia study or to refer a patient, contact Timothy McCulloch, MD, at (608) 263-0192.