Mouth cancer : Complications

Mouth cancer and its treatment can cause a number of complications, including changes to the appearance of your mouth, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and speech problems.

These effects can sometimes cause emotional problems and withdrawal from normal life.


A speech and language therapist will assess your swallowing reflex using a test called a videofluoroscopy.

This test involves swallowing food and liquid that a special dye has been added to while a moving X-ray is taken.

The dye shows up on X-ray, and allows the speech therapist to see your swallowing reflex and assess whether there is a risk of food or liquid entering your lungs when you eat or drink.

If there's a risk, you may need to have a feeding tube for a short period, which will be directly connected to your stomach (gastrostomy). You'll be given exercises to help you learn how to swallow properly again.

Read more about how dysphagia is treated.

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Like swallowing, your ability to speak clearly involves a complex interaction of muscles, bones and tissue, including your tongue, teeth, lips and soft palate.

Radiotherapy and surgery can affect this process, making it difficult to pronounce certain sounds. If your speech is severely affected, you may have problems making yourself understood.

A speech and language therapist will help you improve your speech by teaching you a number of exercises that develop your range of vocal movements. They'll also teach you new ways of producing sounds.

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Emotional impact

The emotional impact of living with mouth cancer can be significant. Many people experience a "roller coaster" effect.

For example, you may feel down when you're first diagnosed, but feel up when the cancer responds to treatment. You may then feel down again as you try to come to terms with the side effects of treatment.

These emotional changes can sometimes trigger depression. Signs that you may be depressed include feeling down or hopeless during the past month and no longer taking pleasure in the things you usually enjoy.

You should see your GP if you think you're depressed. A number of effective treatments are available for depression, including antidepressants and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Read more about coping with a cancer diagnosis.

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