The objective was to assess swallowing, mouth opening and speech function during the first year after radiation-based treatment (RT(+)) after introduction of a dedicated preventive rehabilitation program for stage III-IV oropharyngeal carcinoma (OPC).
Swallowing, mouth opening and speech function were collected before and at six- and twelve-month follow-up after RT(+) for OPC as part of ongoing prospective assessments by speech-language pathologists .
Despite successful implementation, a substantial proportion of patients still experience functional limitations after RT(+) for OPC, suggesting room for improvement of the current rehabilitation program. Pretreatment sarcopenia seems associated with worse functional outcomes and might be a relevant new target for rehabilitation strategies.
Objective and patient-perceived function deteriorated until 6 months and improved until 12 months after treatment, but did not return to baseline levels with 25%, 20% and 58% of the patients with objective dysphagia, trismus and speech problems, respectively. Feeding tube dependency and pneumonia prevalence was low.