Preliminary Experience With Head and Neck Lymphedema and Swallowing Function in Patients Treated for Head and Neck Cancer Lymphedema is a collection of high protein fluid in the interstitial tissues that results from trauma, infection, or oncologic treatment that impairs lymphatic drainage. The damaging effects of radiation therapy and surgery on the lymphatic system primarily include edema and fibrosis. Lymphedema most often is recognized as a potentially serious ... Article
Article  |   June 01, 2010
Preliminary Experience With Head and Neck Lymphedema and Swallowing Function in Patients Treated for Head and Neck Cancer
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Jan S. Lewin
    Department of Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX
  • Katherine A. Hutcheson
    Department of Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX
  • Denise A. Barringer
    Department of Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX
  • Brad G. Smith
    Department of Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX
Article Information
Swallowing, Dysphagia & Feeding Disorders / Special Populations / Articles
Article   |   June 01, 2010
Preliminary Experience With Head and Neck Lymphedema and Swallowing Function in Patients Treated for Head and Neck Cancer
SIG 13 Perspectives on Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia), June 2010, Vol. 19, 45-52. doi:10.1044/sasd19.2.45
SIG 13 Perspectives on Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia), June 2010, Vol. 19, 45-52. doi:10.1044/sasd19.2.45

Lymphedema is a collection of high protein fluid in the interstitial tissues that results from trauma, infection, or oncologic treatment that impairs lymphatic drainage. The damaging effects of radiation therapy and surgery on the lymphatic system primarily include edema and fibrosis. Lymphedema most often is recognized as a potentially serious complication for patients with breast, gynecological, or genitourinary cancers that manifests as swelling of the extremities. However, lymphedema in the head and neck region is a common complication of treatments for head and neck cancer. When lymphedema involves the head and neck region, the cosmetic and functional sequelae may be significant. Potential side effects include problems with drooling, mastication, deglutition, articulation, airway obstruction, and poor self image. The potential effects of head and neck lymphedema on swallowing function have not been well-documented and are only recently recognized. Oral preparation and pharyngeal transit are likely most affected. Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is the international standard of care for treating lymphedema of the extremities that combines manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), bandage compression, skin care, and targeted exercise. Preliminary evidence supports the effectiveness of CDT in patients with head and neck lymphedema after cancer treatment.

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