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Complications

Mouth cancer and its treatment can cause several 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.

Dysphagia

If you're having problems swallowing (dysphagia), a speech and language therapist will assess your swallowing reflex using a test called a videofluoroscopy.

This test involves swallowing food and liquid that contains a special dye while a type of X-ray is taken.

The dye shows 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.

Find out more about how dysphagia is treated.

Speech

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

Surgery and radiotherapy for mouth cancer 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 exercises that develop your range of vocal movements. They'll also teach you new ways of producing sounds.

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 after you're first diagnosed, but feel positive 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. Effective treatments are available for depression, including antidepressants and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Find out more about coping with a cancer diagnosis.