To review the incidence of aspiration after chemoradiation therapy in patients with head and neck cancer (HNC).
One hundred thirty patients with advanced HNC underwent chemoradiation therapy at our institution between 1998 and 2002 as part of a larger, multi-institutional, prospective study of induction chemotherapy followed by chemoradiation therapy; the 118 patients (91%) for whom oropharyngeal motility (OPM) study data were available are discussed in this article.
Main Outcome Measures
Incidence of trace (≤ 5% of swallowed bolus) and frank (> 5%) aspiration (deep laryngeal or tracheal penetration) as determined by pretreatment and posttreatment OPM studies and correlation of the findings with the patients' reported symptoms.
Eighty-one patients (69%) underwent at least 1 OPM study demonstrating aspiration within the first year after chemoradiation therapy, with 30 (25%) demonstrating frank aspiration. Of the patients who aspirated, 61 (75%) reported no symptoms of coughing or choking (80% of trace and 67% of frank aspirators). The patients with cancer of the larynx and hypopharynx were more likely to be aspirators (P = .007 and P = .004, respectively). Of the 62 patients with available pretreatment OPM data, 33 (53%) demonstrated aspiration at baseline.
Aspiration is highly prevalent among patients with advanced HNC at baseline and is worse in the posttreatment period after chemoradiation therapy. The majority of these patients report no symptoms. All patients with advanced HNC should undergo instrumental swallow assessment, even in the absence of symptoms, to detect subclinical aspiration and to institute therapeutic maneuvers and swallow precautions as well as to determine the safety of oral feeding.