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Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2006 Mar;134(3):455-9.

Swallowing function after chemoradiation for advanced stage oropharyngeal cancer.

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  • 1Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Oregon Health & Science University, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR 97239, USA.



Advanced-stage oropharyngeal cancer may be treated either surgically or nonsurgically. We reported previously functional outcomes after surgical resection with free-tissue transfer. In the present study, we evaluated swallowing function after combined chemoradiation for oropharyngeal cancer.


Retrospective review of 30 patients treated at a tertiary academic center for Stage III/IV oropharyngeal cancer with sequential or concurrent chemoradiation from 1994 to 2003.


Inclusion criteria were met by 27 of 30 (90%) patients. Most patients had base of tongue lesions (67%) and Stage IV disease (93%). Gastrostomy was carried out in 22 (82%) patients either before or during treatment. Three months after chemoradiation, 33% (9/27) were consuming all nutrition orally, 22% (6 of 27) were NPO, and 45% (12 of 27) had some oral intake but still required tube feeds. One year after treatment, 53% (10 of 19) had an exclusively oral diet whereas 47% still required tube feeds including 1 patient (5%) who was NPO. In patients without recurrence and follow-up length >1 year, 69% (9 of 13) were consuming all nutrition orally whereas 31% still required gastrostomy tube (G-tube) support. A higher rate of G-tube dependence was observed in patients treated for base of tongue lesions vs tonsil lesions (67% vs 25%, P = 0.049, chi(2) analysis).


At this institution, the short-term (3-4 months) rate of G-tube dependence was similar after surgical and non-surgical treatment of oropharyngeal cancer. One year after chemoradiation, 31% of patients without recurrence still required tube feeds.


These results suggest that organ-preservation protocols do not reduce the prevalence of chronic dysphagia and G-tube dependence after management of oropharyngeal cancer.



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