How often do I see my speech pathologist with a diagnosis of head & neck cancer?

Dec 04, 2022

A speech pathologist, speech language pathologist or speech therapist is a person who is trained to treat swallowing disorders. With the diagnosis of head & neck cancer an automatic referral should be placed by your physician to a speech pathologist. Many patients grow concerns with adding one more person to the list of their specialist in their care. This appointment and person you should not skip. The reason you are seeing the speech pathologist is not only for immediately following the completion of your cancer treatment but also the years to follow your cancer treatment. 

There are side effects following treatment that will last a lifetime and some of these side effects are not preventable. With the right clinician and monitoring at home of your symptoms your quality of life will improve. 

So what is the schedule we see our patients: 

Visit 1: At the time of diagnosis, ideally before the start of chemo or radiation. 

Visit 2: Week 2 of treatment

Visit 3: Week 4 of treatment

Visit 4: Week 6 or 7 of treatment 

Visit 5: 4-6 weeks following completion of treatment 

Visit 6: Specific to the patient but typically at this point we are assessing mouth opening (trismus) swallowing function and safety, discussing tube weaning if one was placed and establishing a sustainable plan for the patient. 

Visits 7 onward: Monitoring of trismus, swallow rehabilitation and lymphedema assessment and management if indicated 

The length of time you will see your speech pathologist following your treatment will be specific to your goals and swallowing abilities. It is not uncommon for our patients to be followed up to 6 months or 1 year while completing the rehabilitation process. We always say we are your friends for life as you will continue to follow up at 3 and 6 month intervals to monitor radiation fibrosis changes. If you are not referred to a speech therapist ask your doctor for a script!