The experiences of people who receive swallow therapy after surgical treatment of head and neck cancer

Camilla Dawson DClinP, Jo Adams PhD, Deborah Fenlon PhD, ScienceDirect, 30 March 2019


This research was initiated to explore the experiences and important elements of swallow therapy in patients after surgery for treatment of head and neck cancer (HNC).

Study Design

One-to-one, face-to-face interviews were conducted with patients with HNC 7 to 14 days after oral reconstructive surgery (free, pedicled, or bony flap). Analysis was conducted by using interpretive phenomenology.


Analysis of interviews from 15 patients identified 2 overarching themes: “I never dreamt” and “They look at you, and they speak to you.” There was no way for patients to be adequately prepared for the enormity of the surgery and its consequences; however, the way health care professionals interacted and communicated with the person, rather than the altered and disfigured self, was healing and therapeutic.


There is a need for novel ways to prepare patients for HNC surgery and to support them in recovery, including ways to connect and help patients feel human again.


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