Cancer is something no one wants to deal with.
Not many people, however, will remain untouched by it in their lives.
Whether it’s a close friend, family member, or dealing with it oneself, cancer is a fact of life most of us will have to face at some point.
And after all of the treatments and radiations are done, there are often side effects which can affect your life for years to come.
If you’re dealing with throat cancer, one of these long term implications could be changes to your voice.
Treatments for cancers that develop in your throat, including the larynx, can change your voice.
They may also affect your ability to speak.
A big part of recovery is re-learning how to speak.
We’re District Speech, and if you’re looking for Washington DC speech therapy to help restore your voice after dealing with laryngeal cancer, we can help.
What Is Your Larynx?
Your larynx is also referred to as your “voice box”.
It’s an organ that’s located in the top of your neck between the base of your tongue and your trachea.
Your larynx is part of your aerodigestive tract.
Your larynx includes your vocal folds, which have three important functions.
These functions are:
- Protection against choking by directing food to your esophagus and out of your trachea
- Regulation of air flow into your lungs
- Generation of sound and speech, including the manipulation of pitch, volume and resonance through vibration
What Is Laryngeal Cancer?
Laryngeal cancer is when cancer forms on your vocal folds, or other areas of your larynx.
In most cases, laryngeal cancer forms in the thin, flat cells which line the inside of your larynx.
This area is also known as the glottis of your larynx.
The glottis is where your vocal cords are located.
One in three laryngeal cancers will start in the area above your glottis, called your supraglottis.
Sometimes, laryngeal cancer can also start in your salivary glands or the lowest part of your larynx.
What Causes Laryngeal Cancer?
Like with most cancers, there are few clear causes of laryngeal cancer.
One possible cause is being infected with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).
However, there are also many risk factors of laryngeal cancer.
Some factors which can increase your risk of laryngeal cancer include:
- Acid reflux
- Being a smoker and general use of tobacco products
- Heavy drinking
- Poor diet and nutrition
- Weakened immune system
- Exposure to toxins and chemicals such as paint fumes
Symptoms Of Laryngeal Cancer
The symptoms of laryngeal cancer can be easy to mistake for signs of other conditions, like a cold.
That can make laryngeal cancer hard to identify.
However, if you experience more than one of the following symptoms, it might be a good idea to contact a doctor.
Some signs to watch for which could indicate the presence of laryngeal cancer include:
- Chronic earaches
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in voice, hoarse voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling a lump in your throat
- Bad breath
- Feeling short of breath
- Chest infection
- Severe cough
- Chronic cough
- Sore throat which does not go away
How Can A Speech Therapist Help With Laryngeal Cancer?
If you are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, some of the treatments you receive may result in changes to the way you speak.
This can seem stressful or scary, but it’s important to remember that there are ways to improve your speech after laryngeal cancer.
One of the things about speech therapists is they can help you understand the changes which will occur when you undergo treatment and work with you to relearn how to speak.
Along with these strategies, there are three main ways to support speech after laryngeal cancer.
The three main ways of doing this include esophageal speech, artificial larynx, and tracheoesophageal puncture.
Let’s look at each of these.
Esophageal speech uses your esophagus to produce speech sounds, rather than your vocal cords.
This work similarly to a burp.
When you burp, you take air into your mouth, hold it in your throat, and let it out.
This creates the “burp” noise.
When air travels through your mouth, it causes vibration in the upper portion of the esophagus, creating sound.
Esophageal speech uses this method of airflow to produce speech.
Esophageal speech takes a lot of practice, but a speech therapist can work with you to help make the process of learning easier.
Tracheoesophageal Puncture, or TEP
If your cancer treatment requires complete removal of the larynx, you may need a tracheoesophageal puncture (TEP).
TEP is a small hole ink the neck between your esophagus and airway.
Once this hole is made, it’s fit for a valve that controls air flow in and out.
The hole with the valve can be used for breathing and speaking.
Your speech therapist can help you learn to speak through the TEP, and how to properly care for it.
An artificial larynx is a small electronic device which vibrates.
When you want to speak, you place it on your neck, under your chin.
It essentially replaces your vocal cords by reading the changes in air through your larynx, turning that into vibrations, and using the vibrations to produce speech.
Practice is required because the speech sounds it makes often sound mechanical, so you need to practice speaking clearly.
It can be used as a primary way to communicate, or sometimes in addition to other options.
Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today
Have you been diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, and are worried about the implications of treatment and surgeries for the way you will communicate in the future?
Do you want to learn more about options for speech therapy treatment which will help you learn to speak again once you undergo radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery?
Are you worried that you will lose your ability to communicate with others if you require a laryngectomy?
Don’t worry – you’re not alone, and there are others who have gone through what you’re facing.
We’re District Speech, speech therapists servicing Washington DC and the surrounding area.
We’ve helped others regain their voice after treatments for throat cancer, and we can help you too.
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005
District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.