“Our voice is the way we engage with one another; it’s our identity, and so much pleasure is derived from eating. I feel like otolaryngologists and the field of medicine as a whole could do a better job of helping patients regain the ability to talk and swallow, particularly after surviving cancer treatment,” says Rebecca Howell, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the UC College of Medicine, member of the UC Cancer Institute and a UC Health physician who specializes in treating voice and swallowing disorders.
With this in mind, Howell is working with the UC Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Head and Neck Cancer Center and the UC Health Voice and Swallowing Center to collect data on patient progression and early interventions for best outcomes.
“We are expanding our practice with the addition of two more speech and language pathologists, adding to our team of now two laryngologists (fellowship-trained specialists in voice, airway, and swallowing)—me and Dr. (Sid) Khosla,” says Howell, who just joined the practice and the UC faculty in the fall. “In addition, we’ve begun distributing a validated quality of life questionnaire to every patient who comes to the Voice and Swallowing Center so that we have a way to track their progress, regardless of their diagnosis.”
Howell says that for those patients who do not initially have trouble swallowing, physicians are establishing points of care in which they can reassess the patient’s needs. In addition, by meeting with speech and language pathologists during an initial evaluation session, the team hopes to increase awareness and accessibility if patients begin to have problems with their voice or swallowing during or after cancer treatment.
“Our overall goal is to catch patients with problems early and to help them retain their ability to eat and maintain their ability to communicate with less effort and strain on the voice,” Howell says. “We don’t realize how much we speak or swallow on a daily basis until it becomes a problem. We’ve done such a great job in medicine of improving survival, but we can really show we care by paying attention to not only how long patients live but how they live, cancer-free.”
About Rebecca Howell:
Rebecca Howell, MD, whose research interest is in swallowing outcomes in head and neck cancer survivors and establishing protocols for their care, is the first otolaryngologist in the area with a specialized clinic focused on swallowing disorders. Clinically, she sees both benign and malignant swallowing, voice and airway disorders. She has additional training in outpatient transnasal esophagoscopy (a scope to see the larynx, esophagus and upper stomach) and is the first in the Cincinnati area to perform in-office (KTP) laser procedures to remove chronic, benign tumors from the vocal cords. Howell sees patients in both the Clifton and West Chester offices. To schedule an appointment, call 513-475-8400.
*This story was originally published in the March 2015 issue of Connected.
Media Contact: Katie Pence, 513-558-4561 Patient Info: To schedule an appointment, call 513-475-8400.