Exercise Regimen Reduces Feeding Tubes in Head and Neck Cancer


Among patients with head and neck cancer who are receiving radiation with or without chemotherapy, a specialized exercise regimen improves their swallowing function compared to repetitive swallowing exercises. These results were recently published in the journal Head and Neck.

Among patients with head and neck cancer, side effects associated with treatment can have a tremendous negative impact on quality of life.

One potential side effect is the inability to properly swallow. Patients who receive radiation to parts of the head and neck that affect swallowing are often left with having to be fed through a tube for an extended period of time following treatment.

However, therapists are now evaluating novel ways in which to regain proper swallowing function for these patients.

Researchers recently evaluated a new exercise regimen for regaining swallowing function among patients with head and neck cancer who had undergone radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy. Results of this regimen were compared to standard repetitive swallowing practices to regain swallowing function.

Three months following therapy, only 16% of patients who underwent the new exercise regimen needed feeding tubes (percutaneous endoscopie gastrostomy (PEG)) tubes, compared with 50% of patients who only underwent repetitive swallowing techniques.
Among patients who were treated with both radiation therapy plus chemotherapy, those needing PEG tubes were significantly less among those undergoing the exercise regimen immediately after therapy (10%) compared to those undergoing the repetitive swallowing techniques (35%). These results remained at 3 months posttreatment as well (50% versus 69%).
The researchers concluded that patients who receive radiation with or without chemotherapy for head and neck cancer have a significantly reduced risk of needing a PEG tube if they undergo a specified exercise regimen compared to a repetitive swallow regimen.

Reference: Virani A, Kunduk M, Fink D, McWhorter A. Effects of 2 different swallowing exercise regimens during organ-preservation therapies for head and neck cancers on swallowing function. Head and Neck. 2015; 37 (2): 162-170.