The objective of this study is to report the initial results of a prospective trial assessing instrumental deglutition function in nasopharynx and oropharynx cancers after radio or chemoradiotherapy using intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). IMRT was delivered aiming to spare the swallowing organ at risk (SWOARs) for Stage II-IV naso- and oropharynx cancer. Objective instrumental assessment included videofluoroscopy (VFS), fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) and oro-pharyngeal-oesophageal scintigraphy (OPES) at baseline and at 1 month after radiotherapy. Dysphagia parameter scores were calculated at each exam after liquid (L) and semi-liquid (SL) bolus intake: pre-deglutition penetration, aspiration, pharyngeal transit time (PTT) and hypopharyngeal retention index (HPRI). Overall, 20 patients (6 nasophaynx and 14 oropharynx) completed treatment and instrumental assessment after 1 month. Comparison between pre- and post-treatment HPRI score values showed a significant worsening in both FEES-L (p = 0.021) and SL (p = 0.02) and at VFS-L (p = 0.008) and SL (p = 0.005). Moreover, a relationship between HPRI worsening at FEES-L and FEES-SL (p = 0.005) as well as at VFS-L and VFS-SL (p < 0.001) was observed. PTT was not significantly affected by radiotherapy (p > 0.2). Only a few patients experienced pre-deglutition penetration (1 patient with base of tongue cancer at FEES-L and SL) and aspiration (1 patient with nasopharynx cancer at OPES-L and FEES-SL) after radiotherapy. Our early results showed that IMRT-SWOARs sparing caused a significant increase in the post-deglutition HPRI score. Longer follow-up will be necessary to evaluate if the increase of HPRI is related to a high risk of developing late aspiration.
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