Functional Laryngectomy and Quality of Life in Survivors of Head and Neck Cancer with Intractable Aspiration

Lisa Evangelista, Nogah Nativ-Zeltzer, Arnaud Bewley, Andrew C. Birkeland, Marianne Abouyared, Maggie Kuhn, Daniel J. Cates, D. Gregory Farwell, Peter Belafsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Late effects of head and neck cancer (HNC) treatment include profound dysphagia, chronic aspiration, and death. Functional laryngectomy (FL) can improve patient survival and quality of life (QoL); however, removing a failing larynx for a noncancer reason is a difficult decision. Data regarding the ability of FL to improve self-perceptions of voice, swallowing, and QOL in survivors of HNC with intractable aspiration are inconclusive. Objective: To investigate the association of FL with changes in self-reported perceptions of voice, swallowing, oral intake, QoL, and mood in survivors of HNC experiencing profound dysphagia and intractable aspiration. Design, Settings, and Participants: This cohort study was conducted at a single academic institution and included survivors of HNC with profound swallowing dysfunction and intractable aspiration who underwent FL from July 2016 through March 2022. Of the initial 22 patients enrolled, 2 patients (15%) died of aspiration pneumonia before receiving FL. Data analyses were performed from July 2016 through March 2023. Main Outcomes and Measures: Self-reported measures of voice using the VHI (30-item Voice Handicap Index), swallowing using the EAT-10 (10-item Eating Assessment Tool), functional oral intake scale using the FOIS (Functional Oral Intake Scale), and quality of life using the FACT-H&N (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Head & Neck) were assessed before FL and at 1, 3, and 6 months after FL. Mood states were evaluated using the POMS (Profile of Mood States, second edition), before FL and at 6 months after FL. Results: The study analyses included 20 patients (mean [SD] age, 72.4 (7.0) years; 19 [95%] males and 1 [5%] female) who underwent FL and had complete data across all time points. Among these, 12 patients (60%) had received chemoradiation for oropharyngeal, 7 (35%) for laryngeal, or 1 (5%) for nasopharyngeal cancer. The mean (SD) time from completion of oncologic treatment to FL was 15.5 (5.5) years. Mean (SD) score on the EAT-10 improved from 33.2 (7.4) to 23.1 (10.8) at 1 month; 12.1 (9.1) at 3 months; and 8.3 (7.4) at 6 months, with a large effect size (η2= 0.72; 95% CI, 0.54-0.80). Mean (SD) score on the FOIS improved from 2.0 (1.5) to 2.9 (1.7) at 1 month; 4.8 (2.5) at 3 months; and 5.2 (1.7) at 6 months, with a large effect size (η2= 0.6; 95% CI, 0.38-0.71). Improvement in oral intake was achieved in 19 patients (95%), and feeding tubes were removed in 10 of 16 patients (63%) who were feeding tube-dependent; 6 patients (27%) continued to require supplemental tube feedings. Mean (SD) score on the VHI improved from 63.6 (34.0) to 86.9 (33.7) at 1 month; 71.3 (36.1) at 3 months; and 39.7 (26.9) at 6 months, with a large effect size (η2= 0.42; 95% CI, 0.19-0.56). Seventeen patients (85%) were able to use a tracheoesophageal voice prosthesis for alaryngeal communication. Mean (SD) score on the FACT-H&N improved from 86.2 (17.8) to 93.6 (18.4) at 1 month; 109.0 (18.4) at 3 months; and 121.0 (16.8) at 6 months, with a large effect size (η2= 0.64; 95% CI, 0.42-0.74). Mean (SD) score on the POMS improved from 58.9 (13.2) at baseline to 44.5 (9.9) at 6 months, with a large effect size (Cohen d = 1.04; 95% CI, 0.48-1.57). None of the patients experienced major complications of FL; 1 patient (5%) had a postoperative pharyngocutaneous fistula. Conclusions and Relevance: The findings of this cohort study indicate that FL was associated with marked improvements in self-perception of voice and swallowing, functional oral intake, QoL, and mood state among survivors of HNC. These findings can serve as a framework for FL counseling among HNC survivors experiencing profound dysphagia and intractable aspiration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-341
Number of pages7
JournalJAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - 11 Apr 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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