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Maintaining Swallowing Function During Head and Neck Cancer Treatment: The Vital Stim Approach

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

At True Self Speech Therapy, our mission is to empower individuals to find solutions in the face of challenging health conditions. For many people diagnosed with head and neck cancer, the journey to recovery can come with obstacles, one of which is dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Fortunately, advancements in treatment have brought about innovative solutions like Vital Stim to address this issue and enhance the quality of life during and after cancer treatment.

Understanding the Challenge: Head and Neck Cancer and Dysphagia

Head and neck cancer is a complex and often aggressive condition that demands a multi-modal approach to treatment. Chemoradiotherapy is a common approach for locoregionally advanced disease, but it can lead to severe swallowing difficulties, affecting both nutrition and overall well-being. Dysphagia can result in a range of problems, from the need for feeding tubes to prolonged hospital stays and even, in some cases, fatal complications.

The Vital Stim Approach: Transcutaneous Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (TNMES)

In the pursuit of improving the lives of individuals undergoing head and neck cancer treatment, speech pathologists have explored innovative interventions. One such approach is Transcutaneous Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (TNMES), one brand is Vital Stim.

How Vital Stim Works

Vital Stim involves the transmission of low-voltage electrical currents through skin surface electrodes to stimulate muscles involved in swallowing. It aims to enhance muscle strength, endurance, range of motion, and circulation in the throat and neck area. While it has been successfully applied in the rehabilitation of stroke patients and those with neuromuscular disorders, its application in head and neck cancer is a promising avenue of research.

Research Insights

A recent study cited below, examined the impact of Vital Stim on dysphagia outcomes in patients with locally advanced head and neck cancer undergoing chemoradiotherapy. The findings were compelling, showing significant benefits when assessing swallowing function using the Functional Oral Intake Scale (FOIS). This scale, designed for stroke patients, clearly distinguishes between feeding tube dependency and the ability to eat by mouth. Patients who received Vital Stim interventions during their treatment exhibited milder declines in swallowing function, ultimately improving their quality of life.

Personalized Care at True Self Speech Therapy

At True Self Speech Therapy, we understand the unique challenges that each patient faces. Our practice is proud to offer Vital Stim as part of our comprehensive approach to treating dysphagia. We recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work, and that's why our therapy is tailored to meet your specific needs. By incorporating Vital Stim into our comprehensive care plan, we aim to reduce swallowing difficulties, enhance nutritional intake, and improve the overall well-being of our patients.

Dysphagia during head and neck cancer treatment is a challenging issue, but innovative therapies like Vital Stim offer hope and promise for improved outcomes. The research findings support the effectiveness of this therapy in preserving swallowing function. At True Self Speech Therapy, we are committed to providing you with personalized care that addresses your unique needs and enhances your quality of life during and after cancer treatment. If you or a loved one is facing head and neck cancer treatment, consider exploring the benefits of Vital Stim in your journey to recovery.

Bhatt, A.D., Goodwin, N., Cash, E., Bhatt, G., Silverman, C.L., Spanos, W.J., Bumpous, J.M., Potts, K., Redman, R., Allison, W.A. and Dunlap, N.E. (2015), "Impact of transcutaneous neuromuscular electrical stimulation on dysphagia in patients with head and neck cancer treated with definitive chemoradiation". Head Neck, 37: 1051-1056.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with a qualified speech pathologist for a personalized evaluation and treatment plan.

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