The Effects of Radiation on the Vocal Folds

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It is not uncommon to run into at least one person each day who prevents with dysphonia (poor voice quality). I am a private studio singing teacher but with a strong interest in the vocal health of everyone. Since our quality of life depends on an adequate speaking voice, many of us care able to empathize with those radiotherapy patients who lose their voices for up to 6 weeks. Think back to a time when you had a bout with laryngitis and remember expressing yourself for one day. It was difficult. If I come in contact with someone with dysphonia, I make it my business to ask them what is going on with their voice. It comes as no surprise they will tell me they recently had radiation for cancer. There are a limited amount of studies available that discuss the decrease of vocal quality after radiation. For some patients it may take a full year before the voice will approach pretreatment measurements (Van der Molen et al). For others it can be up to 10 years (van Gogh et al). Some of the qualities of dysphonia after radiation are hoarseness, breathiness weakness, edema (swelling) DNA cell death, erythema and vascular damage. A certified speech pathologist will work with you to strengthen your vocal folds. This will include a set of vocal exercises to be practiced every day. There will be follow-up to this article.

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