Changes to speech
The ability to talk can be affected by surgery and radiation therapy, either from the treatment itself or from side effects such as swelling after surgery or a tracheostomy. You may lose the ability to speak clearly (dysarthria) or experience changes to your voice (dysphonia). The extent of any changes will vary depending on where the cancer is located and the type of treatment you had.
Talking will take time and practice – it’s natural to feel distressed, frustrated and angry at times. You will need to get used to the way your new voice sounds. Use the National Relay Service to make phone calls.
How to manage changes to speech
- Try non-verbal ways to communicate – gesture, point, nod, smile, mouth words, write things down on a notepad or ring a bell to call people.
- Use technology (e.g. a computer, tablet or mobile phone) to write and send notes.
- Work with a speech pathologist to improve your speech and learn strategies for communicating with your family and friends. The speech pathologist may give you some exercises to improve strength and range of motion of the lips, tongue, jaw and larynx.
- Encourage family and friends to be honest if they don’t understand you and to learn new ways to communicate with you.
- Speak to a counsellor or psychologist about any problems or frustrations.
- See also Restoring speech after a laryngectomy.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof David Wiesenfeld, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Director, Head and Neck Tumour Stream, The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Melbourne Health, VIC; Alan Bradbury, Consumer; Dr Ben Britton, Senior Clinical and Health Psychologist, John Hunter Hospital, NSW; Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, QLD; Jedda Clune, Senior Dietitian (Head and Neck Cancer), Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Dr Ben Dixon, ENT, Head and Neck Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC; Emma Hair, Senior Social Worker, St George Hospital, NSW; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Kara Hutchinson, Head and Neck Cancer Nurse Coordinator, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Julia Maclean, Speech Pathologist, St George Hospital, NSW; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Andrea Wong, Physiotherapist, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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