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Prisma Health Physical Therapy Specialists –Head and Neck Treatment for Cancer Patients

At Prisma Health Physical Therapy Specialists, we treat head and neck lymphedema, one of the most prevalent side effects of cancer treatment.

Internal and external lymphedema is seen in more than 50% of head and neck cancer patients. It is when damage to the lymphatic system prevents the body from transporting fluids. Head and neck lymphedema can result in difficulty swallowing, impaired communication and obstructed respiration. Early identification and appropriate treatment of head and neck lymphedema and related deficits of speech, voice and swallowing are critical to improve clinical outcomes and quality of life in patients.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy will measure range of motion and circumference of the neck, provide education on the signs and symptoms of lymphedema, as well as provide a home exercise program.

Physical therapists will also look for:
  • Fibrosis-thickening and scarring of tissue in the head and neck.
  • Onset of internal and external lymphedema.

Speech therapy

A speech language pathologist will assess swallow function, provide education on the signs and symptoms of dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), as well as provide a home exercise program. Swallowing challenges may include difficulty managing food or liquid inside the mouth, which may lead to coughing, throat clearing, wet or gurgled vocal quality and sensation of food being stuck in throat.

Additional swallowing tests can be ordered by your doctor and performed by a speech pathologist to determine how well a patient can swallow.

These tests include:
  • A Flexible Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) test is a fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing.
  • A Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study (VFSS), also known as a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS), is a procedure a speech pathologist performs in order to evaluate the anatomy and physiology of the oral cavity, pharynx and screening of the esophagus.
The following speech and voice deficits will be evaluated and treated as needed:
  • Articulation and speech intelligibility – The inability to produce speech sounds to verbally communicate wants and needs. Communication for those with laryngectomies can be enhanced via a voice prosthesis, electrolarynx or esophageal speech.
  • Dysphonia ­– Decreased vocal quality, pitch and loudness that interferes with meeting the daily needs of communicating verbally.
  • Aphonia – Loss of voice.
  • Trismus – Jaw stiffness.


Carolina Medical Plaza
3010 Farrow Rd., Suite 100
Columbia, SC 29203

South Carolina Oncology Associates
166 Stoneridge Drive
Columbia, SC 29210