Changes in your speech due to mouth and oropharyngeal cancer

Speech changes depend on where your cancer is, and the type of treatment you have. It is more common after:

  • tongue cancer 
  • soft palate or lip cancer 
  • having lots of your teeth removed
  • removing all or part of your voice box (larynx)

How your speech might change

Your voice might be huskier, quieter or sound as though you have a cold all the time. Some people lose their voice.

It might become difficult to say some particular words, or you may slur some words. This can be temporary and get better once swelling from surgery has gone down. 

Sometimes it can be permanent and others might find it difficult to understand you. You will have speech and language therapy for several months after treatment if this happens. 

Radiotherapy to your head and neck can make your mouth dry, making speech difficult. Your doctor can help you with treatments or advice to keep your mouth moist.

Coping

It can be very distressing and frustrating to lose your ability to talk or to talk less fluently. 

Adjusting to changes in speech can take some time. It is important to allow time to take it all in and find new ways of speaking and communicating. Carrying a notebook and pen or electronic tablet to write notes might be useful. 

It might help to share how you feel with people in a similar situation. Ask your doctor or specialist nurse if there is a support group in your area. Or you can search for a local head and neck support group on the Mouth Cancer Foundation website. 

Some people find online communities helpful, particularly when talking is more difficult or slower than it used to be. Cancer Chat is the Cancer Research UK free online discussion forum for people affected by cancer. The Mouth Cancer Foundation also has a community Forum.

You might decide that you would like some counselling to help cope. Ask your GP or nurse how you can access a counsellor in your area.

Last reviewed: 
19 Oct 2021
Next review due: 
19 Oct 2024
  • Oropharyngeal cancer: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines

    H Mehanna and others 

    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130, supplement S2, pages S90-S96

     

  • Oral cavity and lip cancer: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines

    C Kerawala and others 

    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130 (Suppl. S2), pages S83–S89

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, larynx, oropharynx and hypopharynx: EHNS- ESMO-ESTRO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    J P Machiels and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2020. Volume 31, Issue 11, Pages 1462-1475

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (10th edition)
    S Lister, J Hofland and H Grafton 
    Wiley Blackwell, 2020

Related links