Laryngectomy is the surgical removal of the larynx. The person who had the procedure is called a "laryngectomee." The larynx is the "voice box" or vocal cords, which vibrate as air passes over them during exhalation, and this sound is made into our speech by the parts of our mouth. If the larynx is removed, no speech sounds can be made. A partial laryngectomy may allow speech, though in many cases it will be different than the speech was before surgery and may be more difficult for people to understand. In addition, the trachea (breathing tube) is redirected with removal of the larynx, resulting in a stoma (hole) in the neck that the laryngectomee breathes through. This is referred to as a "neck breather." These changes bring about some practical and safety concerns of which you should be aware.
Issues with speech and swallowing are common after laryngectomy, but these issues can arise at any point in a survivor's life. If you experience any difficulty swallowing at any time, notify your oncology team. A speech language pathologist (SLP) can help manage swallowing difficulties and help with devices and techniques to assist with your speech. SLPs can be accessed at any time in a survivor's life for new concerns or to explore newer technologies for speech.
As you recover from surgery and get back to life, you are sure to encounter situations that you weren't prepared for. Your healthcare team is there to support you and answer questions. The following resources can provide lots of practical tips from other survivors who have "been there."
Web Whispers: Throat Cancer and Laryngectomee Rehabilitation - Offers advice, tips and education from survivors.
Support for People with Oral Head & Neck Cancer (SPOHNC): Provides support groups, buddy programs, education and awareness.
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