Head and neck cancer

How we can help people with head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancer is a general term used to describe when cancer develops in the cells lining the surfaces in both the head and neck. This usually occurs in areas which have mucous lined surfaces, such as the mouth, nose and throat. However, cancer can also occur in the glandular cells and includes areas such as, lymph nodes and tonsils.

Speech and language therapy will treat individuals with head and neck cancer by helping to improve and support any speech, language, communication and swallowing difficulties.

What is head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer is when cells in the head and neck become cancerous. There are many different areas in and around the head and neck which can develop cancer. Some of these include:

This type of cancer is uncommon, however if it does develop, it is usually squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer develops in the mucous lined surfaces such as the mouth, nose or throat. Symptoms will depend upon the area affected and may include one or more of the following;

Depending upon which areas are affected by cancer, speech may be affected on a short term basis. It can also mean a permanent change to the way someone speaks. This is where speech and language therapists will be able to assess and support an individual in their recovery. This may be through the use of alternative methods of communication or adapted methods.

What causes head and neck cancer?

There is not an exact cause of head and neck cancer, however as with other cancers, there are other risk factors associated with head and neck cancer. Some of these risk factors include:

These are risk factors only, therefore someone exposed to these risks, will not necessarily develop cancer.

What problems caused by head and neck cancer can SLT UK help with?

Speech and language therapy can help with difficulties associated with head and neck cancer. Speech and language therapy can help both before and after surgery, speech and language therapy will be beneficial in order to work on the language, communication, voice and swallowing difficulties that are caused by head and neck cancer.

Speech and language therapy will be tailored to each individual and may include advice for family or carers, as well an investigation into other forms of communication if needed, such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

How does speech and language therapy help head and neck cancer?

Speech and language therapy can help people who have head and neck cancer in many different ways. This can be before or after surgery and will depend upon severity. Speech and language therapists will develop strategies for speech intelligibility and will ensure each therapy plan is personal and specific to each person receiving treatment. This programme will often be coupled with rehab and will aim to achieve the best possible communication for each individual.

Speech and language therapy treatment will be reviewed on a regular basis and strategies put in place in order to achieve the best possible outcome. The most important thing is to remember that a change in speech production will take time to get used to, however will become easier with a good, strong support network and time.

Speech and language therapy is highly beneficial for individuals with head and neck cancer, it can increase an individual's confidence to communicate as coping strategies begin to develop. Social and work opportunities may arise as the individual learns ways to effectively communicate.

What would speech and language therapy treatment for head and neck cancer involve?

Speech and language therapy for head and neck cancer may involve assessments, reports, reviews, therapy programmes, training, groups, advice and education.

Specific treatment options for head and neck cancer can include:

An initial assessment will be carried out by one of our speech and language therapists. This will highlight any worries and difficulties concerning communication and speech. It will also provide a chance for you to share any concerns you may have, and allow you to discuss what you would like to work on and improve.


Head and neck cancer can occur in many different areas of the head and neck; however is a less common form of cancer. Speech and language therapy is beneficial for individuals to recover their speech or discover new and different alternatives to speech and communication. Speech and language therapy will also support patients with eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties.

If you feel you may benefit from speech and language therapy or would like any more information on our services please email office@slt.co.uk or call 0330 088 5643.

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Conditions Voice problems Speech disorders Neurological problems Communication problems Autism spectrum disorder Eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties Head and neck cancer Hearing loss and impairments Learning difficulties Mental health problems Palliative care needs Physical disabilities
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