Electrical stimulation of post-irradiated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma to improve xerostomia

Pattani KM, McDuffie CM, Morgan M, Armstrong C, Nathan CO.

J La State Med Soc. 2010 Jan-Feb;162(1):21-5.



We observed a significant improvement in the complaints of dysphagia in patients with head and neck cancer who had received noninvasive neuromuscular electrical stimulation (E-stim) of their pharyngeal muscles. We wanted to determine if the improvement in dysphagia was a result of decreased complaints of xerostomia and increased saliva production, since one of our first patients being treated with E-stim noticed a significant improvement in xerostomia.


Prospective trial to determine the effects of E-stim by evaluating saliva production and dysphagia questionnaires instituted by our speech pathologists on head and neck cancer patients that had received radiotherapy (XRT) and were to undergo E-stim for dysphagia.


Prior to the initiation of E-stim and one to two months after E-stim, saliva samples were collected and patients were asked to answer a Dysphagia and Xerostomia Index Questionnaire. All patients received E-stim two to four months after completing XRT. Patients received three E-stim treatments per week for a total of one to two months. Four electrodes were placed along anterior neck over pharyngeal muscles. E-stim was initiated using four to 30mA at 80-100 pulse-widths.


Five patients that received either postoperative radiation therapy or concomitant chemoradiotherapy had been treated with E-stim. All five patients noticed a significant improvement in dysphagia. Five out of five patients noticed a definite increase in saliva production with symptoms of decreased intake of water with meals, sleeping longer hours at night, and increased moistness of lips.


E-stim therapy appears to be an effective and approved treatment for dysphagia. Our study shows that it may also be beneficial for xerostomia in the post-irradiated head and neck cancer patients.


To determine if E-stim will benefit the previously irradiated patient with dysphagia and xerostomia.


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