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Healing Radiation-induced Dysphagia- Difficulty Swallowing-

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Healing Radiation-induced dysphagia is possible. Remember that the sooner you diagnose it and begin undergoing healing therapies, the better chance you have of healing your own.

The medical term for difficulty swallowing is dysphagia. During the fall of 1993, I developed a pain in my neck. What began as an annoyance became serious enough pain to get an x-ray. The x-ray led to surgery and the surgery led to a pathologist explaining that I had multiple myeloma. An incurable but very treatable blood cancer.

Surgery to remove the single plasmacytoma that was causing my neck pain, followed by local radiation to “clean up the area” led to Radiation-induced dysphagia, and difficulty swallowing.

Keep in mind that while both my dysphagia and xerostomia were caused by the same therapy, they are two different side effects, two different health challenges, etc.

In order to address my mantra “I wish I knew then what I know now” this post will define dysphagia, discuss the pros and cons of radiation in cancer therapy and finally, discuss possible therapies shown to heal or at least stabilize dysphagia.

Benefit of this therapy? 

I developed full multiple myeloma less than a year after this diagnosis of a single bone plasmacytoma (SBP) as well as local radiation to my neck. I don’t see how radiation therapy could have provided any benefit to me. The negative aspects of dysphagia may lead to my complete inability to swallow food.

The blog posts linked below document this side effect, my therapies, coping mechanisms, etc for my dysphagia.

Like all my other long-term and late stage side effects,

  • I was not told about the likelihood of this side effect before I had this therapy
  • I had to figure out the side-effect, the seriousness or quality-of-life challenges that the side effect would cause and possible therapies to either heal or at least stabilize my dysphagia
  • I wrote about the experience in PeopleBeatingCancer.org over the months and years following treatment

In short, this post and links to my blog posts documenting this side effect is designed to address my mantra of  “I wish I knew then what I know now-

Alternatives to local radiation therapy?

Though I developed full-blown MM less than a year after my local radiation, I do believe that this therapy- local radiation- was needed. I have worked with many patients who have also been diagnosed with a single-bone plasmacytoma (SBP) and many live with this pre-myeloma diagnosis for years.

Therapies to heal radiation fibrosis that leads to dysphagia?

Both resveratrol,   melatonin and acupuncture have been shown to reduce the damage done by radiation (resveratrol and melatonin) and heal radiation damage. I do neck sit-ups (shaker exercise) every morning for my dysphagia. (dysphgagia is closely related to xerostomia in my case)

I get bored if I just hold my head off the floor. So I do sit-ups, front, side, on my stomach, yada yada…

I do all three therapies regularly and have for years now. The only addition is to begin this therapy ASAP following local radiation to your head and neck area. I would also consider hyperbaric oxygen therapy immediately following radiation therapy.

In short, this post and links to my blog posts documenting this side effect is designed to address my mantra of  “I wish I knew then what I know now-

As of today, July 2021, I consider my radiation-induced dysphagia to be progressing but only very slowly. I believe I am almost stable.

  • I have learned to ALWAYS have liquid available when I’m eating, (in case a piece of food get stuck in my throat)
  • Part of my daily physical therapy is a series of shaker exercises (neck sit-ups)
  • I anticipate losing my voice at any crowded, noisy event
  • Most importantly, I know that I have to work to keep my ability to swallow for the rest of my life

Scroll down the page to post questions or comments.

Thank you,

David Emerson

  • MM Survivor
  • MM Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

Recommended Reading:

Dysphagia in cancer patients: What to know

Radiation therapy can also cause swallowing problems. The effects of radiation — including scarring and fibrosis — build over time, and can reduce the ability of the throat muscles to function properly, even long after treatment is finished. Radiation can also cause narrowing of the swallowing passage — a problem known as “stricture.”

Chemotherapy doesn’t generally cause lasting dysphagia, but it can make the effects of radiation worse. And though chemotherapy can also affect a patient’s appetite and desire to eat, those side effects are often temporary. The side effects of radiation are usually permanent…”

Dysphagia after radiotherapy: State of the art and prevention

“Functional rehabilitation

An adapted diet and functional rehabilitation can be proposed according to the degree of dysphagia. Many swallowing exercises have been described for patients treated by radiotherapy [48], [49], [50], [51]


… \New radiotherapy techniques allow a reduction of certain late toxicities without compromising tumour sterilization. The systematic use of dose constraints on structures involved in swallowing, according to the tumour site, will help to decrease the incidence of dysphagia…”

Stem cells could be ‘revolutionary treatment’ for swallowing problems after cancer therapy

“The REVIVE trial will evaluate a new technique where researchers inject stem cells from a biopsy of patient’s thigh muscle into the patient’s tongue. The researchers hypothesize that the stem cells will fuse with existing muscle fibers to strengthen tongue muscles and improve ability to swallow…”

Head and Neck Cancer Survivors With Dysphagia Prone to Anxiety, Depression

“Patient-reported symptoms of dysphagia were measured with the 10-item Eating Assessment Tool (EAT-10), which assessed issues such as difficulties with consistencies, food sticking, coughing, and swallowing-related weight loss. Participants also completed the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) to assess for recent symptoms of anxiety and the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 (PHQ-8) to assess for recent symptoms of depression…

Patients who self-reported symptoms of dysphagia were also more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression. Overall, 23% of the participants reported symptoms of anxiety and 29% reported symptoms of depression. “When comparing anxiety and depression levels in survivors who reported symptoms of dysphagia versus those who did not, statistical analysis showed a substantial positive correlation between increased swallowing dysfunction and more severe symptoms of anxiety and depression,” the researchers reported…”

Leave a Comment:

LAWRENCE WRENN says last year

I had Radiation therapy for throat in 2018, 35 days of radiation and chemo treatment, developed Lymphedema, eventually ORN(Oralradioneucrosis), which required lower mandible replacement, using a bone from my fibula as source of bone. It required removal of a nerve from my mouth and bone was secured by steel encasements. My swallowing has deteriated to point a Speech Pathologist recommended a permanent feeding tube. I am looking for a miracle to prevent it, Any suggestions would be appreciated, thanks.

    David Emerson says last year

    Hi Lawrence- see my response- let me know if you have any questions.

    David Emerson

LAWRENCE WRENN says last year

I Have dysphagia, as result of radiation(35 days) to my throat. I have had difficulty swallowing, ever since. I also developed Lymphedema, eventually ORN(OralRadioneucrosis). I had surgery in Feb, of 2022. It has increased to the point that a speech Pathologist recommended a permanent Feeding tube. I am trying to fight it, but limited to soft foods and exercise. If anyone knows of a cure or some sort of improvement. Thank you, very frustrating and disheartenening

    David Emerson says last year

    Hi Lawrence-

    I am sorry to learn of you dysphagia. I can’t speak to lymphedema therapies but I can talk about what I’ve done for my dysphagia. And possibly xerostomia aka dry mouth. I
    mention this not to add to your headaches but to prepare for this possibility.

    Short term, long term.

    Short term- every time I eat, I make sure I have liquid within arms reach. You probably already know this, just making sure.

    Medium term- I do Shaker exercises daily. As my neck became stronger, I branched out to neck exercises beyond what she does in the video.


    Longer term- Acupuncture- I underwent acupuncture (approx. 2 months, once a week) and believe that it helps-


    I believe that acupuncture helped my xerostomia as well. As I was working on both side effects at the same time, it is difficult to say which therapy helped which side effect.

    Xerostomia- sleep. If you develop this side effect, you will notice extreme dry mouth after sleep. Your mouth opens, you breath, no saliva. To prevent this from happening, I shove a pillow under my chin as I fall asleep. No open mouth, no dry mouth. I make sure to keep my nose clean- nets pot, saline spray before bed.

    These therapies are when I can think of right now. Let me know if you have any questions.

    David Emerson

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