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Perspectives on optimizing radiotherapy dose to the dysphagia/aspiration-related structures for patients with head and neck cancer

Barnhart, Molly K.a,b; Hutchison, Alana R.b,c

Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery: June 2019 - Volume 27 - Issue 3 - p 157–161
doi: 10.1097/MOO.0000000000000532
SPEECH THERAPY AND REHABILITATION: Edited by H. Fiona Robinson and Jo Patterson

Purpose of review The purpose of this study is to provide an overview on the methodologies, outcomes and clinical implications of studies that have investigated swallowing outcomes after head and neck cancer (HNC) treatment when reducing radiotherapy dose to specific dysphagia/aspiration-related structures (DARS).

Recent findings Overall, there is limited recent evidence, with a lack of high-quality studies, which examine the outcomes of DARS-optimized radiotherapy treatment. Large variations exist in the methodology of these studies in regards to which DARS are delineated and how swallowing outcomes are measured. Consequently, there is a wide range of dose limits recommended to a variety of DARS structures. Despite these limitations, there appears to be a general consensus that optimizing dose to the DARS will result in some reduction of dysphagia after radiotherapy without compromising on treatment to the tumour.

Summary More rigorous study must be completed to determine the true extent of clinical benefit from this practice. Institutions must take into consideration the limitations of the evidence as well as logistical costs of implementing this technique into practice. However, optimizing dose to the DARS appears to be a well-tolerated practice that may have substantial positive benefits for patients’ swallowing function and quality of life after HNC treatment.

aSpeech Pathology, Prince of Wales Hospital (POWH), Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

bThe University of Queensland, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, St. Lucia

cCentre for Functioning and Health Research, Metro South Hospital and Health Service, Queensland Health, Buranda, Queensland, Australia

Correspondence to Molly K. Barnhart, Level 2 High Street Entrance, Speech Pathology Department, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, NSW 2031, Australia. Tel: +61 2 9382 2862; fax: +61 2 9382 8265; e-mail:

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