Laryngeal cancer and its treatment can make it hard to swallow, talk, and breathe. Your health care team will help you return to normal activities as soon as possible. The goals of rehabilitation depend on the extent of the disease and type of treatment.
After surgery or radiation therapy, your neck and shoulders may become stiff or weak. Your health care team can teach you exercises that help loosen your neck and shoulder muscles.
Learning to Speak Again
Laryngeal cancer and its treatment can cause problems with talking. A speech-language pathologist can assess your needs and plan therapy, which may include speech exercises.
If you need your entire larynx removed, you must learn to speak in a new way. Talking is part of nearly everything you do, so it’s natural to be scared if your larynx must be removed. Losing the ability to talk is hard. It takes practice and patience to learn new ways to speak.
Before surgery or soon after, the speech-language pathologist can describe your choices for speech:
- Electric larynx: An electric larynx is a small device that can help you talk after your larynx has been removed. It’s powered by a battery. The electric larynx makes a humming sound like the vocal cords. Some models are used in the mouth whereas other models are placed on the neck.
- Esophageal speech: There is no device to carry around for esophageal speech because the sound is made with air. A speech-language pathologist can teach you how to release air like a burp from the walls of your throat. It takes practice, but you can learn how to form words from the released air with the lips, tongue, and teeth.
- Tracheoesophageal puncture: The surgeon makes a small opening between your trachea and esophagus, and a small device is placed in the opening. With practice, you can learn to speak by covering the stoma and forcing air through the device. The air makes sound by vibrating the walls of your throat.
Speech therapy will generally begin as early as possible. If you have surgery, speech therapy may continue after you leave the hospital.
You may want to ask your speech-language pathologist these questions:
- What kind of swallowing and speech problems should I tell my health care team about? What can a speech-language pathologist do for me?
- If I have surgery to remove the larynx, how will I communicate with my health care team while I’m in the hospital? What can I do to prepare myself and my family?
- If my larynx is removed, which methods of speech do you suggest for me?
- If an electric larynx is right for me, how would I choose the best model?
- Can you recommend a support group for people with swallowing or speech problems?