Dysphagia Treatment for Patients With Head and Neck Cancer Undergoing Radiation Therapy: A Meta-analysis Review

Elissa Greco, Tijana Simic, Jolie Ringash, George Tomlinson, Yoko Inamoto, Rosemary Martino

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Patients undergoing radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy (C/RT) for head and neck cancer (HNC) often develop dysphagia. Interventions from speech-language pathologists aim to maintain or improve swallow physiology and function. However, it is unclear which interventions provide the greatest benefit. We performed a systematic review to assess the benefit of exercise therapy on swallow physiology, function, and related quality of life (QOL). Methods and Materials: We searched 7 electronic databases up to July 12, 2017, for all primary studies of any language or design that included the following: a behavioral swallowing intervention for patients with HNC treated with curative C/RT, a comparison group, and outcomes related to swallow physiology, function, and/or QOL. Two blinded raters judged the abstracts and full articles, with discrepancies resolved by a third rater. Critical appraisal was completed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias. Descriptive analyses were conducted for all outcomes and meta-analyses for outcomes that were identical in type and time relative to C/RT. Results: Of 1937 unique abstracts retrieved, 20 studies qualified. Of these, 12 were randomized controlled trials. Across the studies, dysphagia treatments varied by exercise type and start time (ie, before or during C/RT, n = 14; immediately after C/RT, n = 1; >3 months after C/RT, n = 5). After treatment, the outcomes measured varied by domain, tools, and follow-up schedule (ie, immediately after, n = 6; within 3 months after, n = 9, >3 months after, n = 12). All articles had risks of bias and most often lacked report of sample size calculations (n = 18), controlled clinician–participant interaction time across groups (n = 13), and treatment details to allow duplication (n = 9). The meta-analysis revealed physiological or functional, but not QOL, benefits after interventions with early and late start times. Conclusions: Given that benefit was identified with both early and late interventions, future high-quality trials are needed to clarify the most effective time, type, and intensity of behavioral dysphagia interventions for these HNC patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-444
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01-06-2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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