Morning Mix


Speaking after laryngectomy

Posted at 11:48 AM, Dec 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-02 11:47:10-05

When a person is diagnosed with cancer in their voice box, communicating after it has to be removed can be a challenging task. Fortunately thank to special procedures and technology at Spectrum Health, there are ways to make that transition easier for people on the road to recovery.

The surgical removal of the larynx (voice box) is called a laryngectomy, which is a common procedure for patients with cancer of the voice box, throat, mouth, or other throat drama. The voice box generates sound to allow people to speak, and allows air to flow up through the lungs to the mouth.

After a laryngectomy, a small hole called a stoma is left behind and is visible and patients are breathing from a hole in their neck.

Alice Norris,  a Speech Language Pathologist, says there are a few different ways to communicate after receiving a laryngectomy. Most people start by plugging the hole that's in their neck with their hand as they talk, and eventually be able to talk normally later on without covering it up. There are also fancy covering that can be placed over the hole on the patient's neck so they don't feel self conscious.

The surgical option is to put in a voice prosthesis. The physician would puncture a hole in the neck and place a prosthetic voice box in the throat, replacing the natural noise box and allowing the patient to speak.

However one of the most common ways to speak after a laryngectomy is to use an electro larynx. The device is an electronic way to generate a voice by placing it on the neck, pushing a button, and generating a vibration to allow words to come out of the mouth when the patient tries to talk. There are limitations to the electro larynx because the voice sounds robotics, so patients can't express their emotions within a sentence.

Even if there isn't an option to get these high tech contraptions from the doctor, modern technology at home is making it easier for patients to have everyday communication. There are iPad applications that can generate a voice for the patient if they can't afford an electro larynx.

After surgery, Spectrum Health's Neuro Outpatient Rehabilitation provides a team of doctors, therapists, and professionals to offer assistance whenever it's needed.

For more information on Spectrum's Neuro Outpatient Rehab, call (616) 391-6235.