The cancer care team: Speech-language pathologist

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Depending on your cancer treatment, you may need to see a speech-language pathologist. Find out what a speech-language pathologist does and why you may need one on your health-care team.

Key points

  • Speech-language pathologists work with people who have trouble swallowing or communicating.
  • Some cancers can cause problems with speech, language, hearing or swallowing, which can lead to other issues.
  • An SLP can help you improve your speech and language and make the most of current communication skills, including non-verbal communication.

What is speech-language pathology?

Speech-language pathology is the study of how a person communicates and swallows. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help people who have trouble swallowing and/or communicating. Difficulties with communication can include trouble speaking clearly and fluently, using and understanding language or hearing.

An SLP may be a part of your health-care team. If an SLP is not currently part of your team, you or your family can ask your health-care team to recommend one.

How can a speech-language pathologist help me?

Some cancers, like brain or thyroid cancer, can cause problems with speech, language, hearing or swallowing.

When you can’t swallow properly, there is a risk that food will go into your lungs instead of your stomach. This can cause a very serious infection. An SLP will assess your ability to swallow different types of food and liquid and then figure out how to help you eat and drink safely.

Having difficulty with any part of communication can be a real challenge. An SLP can help you improve your speech and language difficulties and make the most of your current communication skills. If speech is not possible, you may need to learn a new way to communicate non-verbally (without words). These new ways may include using gestures, signing, using a voice prosthesis (a little box you control that will speak for you) or using other types of devices that help you express your wants and needs such as an alphabet board or a touch screen computer with personalized vocabulary.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019