Swallowing function after transoral laser microsurgery (TLM) ± adjuvant therapy for advanced-stage oropharyngeal cancer

Jason T. Rich, Jingxia Liu, Bruce H. Haughey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Objectives/Hypothesis: To perform a longitudinal description of swallowing function following transoral laser microsurgery (TLM) ± adjuvant therapy for advanced-stage oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) and identify prognostic factors associated with swallowing performance. Study Design: Retrospective analysis and longitudinal descriptive study of swallowing outcomes. Methods: Patients treated with TLM for AJCC stage III-IV OPC at Washington University from 1996 to 2008 were included. A search of medical records and direct patient contact were performed to obtain swallowing function at multiple time points. Persistently poor swallowing at 2 year after surgery was the primary outcome measure. Two year swallowing outcomes stratified by tumor site and T stage are presented. Results: One hundred eighteen patients met criteria for the study (median follow-up 53.9 months). There were 44 T1's, 41 T2's, 23 T3's and 10 T4's. Forty seven percent received radiotherapy and 41% received chemoradiotherapy. Ninety-eight percent underwent neck dissection. Patients tolerated TLM well with 82% enjoying good swallowing at 1 month after surgery. During adjuvant therapy, at 3 months, good swallowing dropped to 55%. At 1 and 2 years after TLM, 89% and 88% of patients had good swallowing function, respectively. At 2 years, 9 patients had persistently poor swallowing function. 93% of patients with T1 through T3 enjoyed good swallowing at 2 years. T4 base of tongue disease was associated with persistently poor swallowing function in multivariate analyses (P = 0.0023), with 40% having good swallowing at 2 years. Preexisting comorbidities and conversion to an open procedure were associated with delayed return of swallowing function, but not with persistently poor swallowing. Seven patients developed late-onset swallowing dysfunction. Conclusions: Treatment of advanced stage OPC with TLM ± adjuvant therapy results in excellent swallowing outcomes for patients with either T1 to T3 tonsil or T1 to T3 base of tongue resections. A detailed, longitudinal swallowing profile is presented to assist in preoperative counseling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2381-2390
Number of pages10
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • FOSS
  • Level of evidence: 2b.
  • TLM
  • Transoral laser microsurgery
  • advanced stage oropharyngeal cancer
  • base of tongue oropharynx
  • chemoradiotherapy
  • dysphagia
  • swallow
  • tonsil


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