27 July 2022

To mark World Head and Neck Cancer Day, the RCSLT calls for better support for people with cancer.

Today (27 July 2022) is World Head and Neck Cancer Day. The RCSLT is marking the occasion by publishing its response to the Department of Health and Social Care’s 10-Year Cancer Plan call for evidence.

What did we highlight?

In our response, we highlighted:

  • Speech and language therapists assess, diagnose, and treat swallowing, voice and communication difficulties arising as a result of cancer.
  • In accordance with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, the speech and language therapist is a named core member of the multidisciplinary team for head and neck cancer, neuro-oncology, critical care and paediatrics and young adults.
  • While head and neck cancers make up a significant proportion of the speech and language therapy caseload, it is not a homogenous group; people with various cancers including, but not exclusive to, lung, brain, oesophageal, haematological and patients with metastatic disease are also referred. There is emerging evidence demonstrating the need for more frequent speech and language therapy screening and intervention of patients with lung and oesophageal cancer.

What did we recommend?

The RCSLT recommended various ways to improve outcomes for people with cancer.

Priorities over the next decade

To support the government’s ambition of increasing diagnostic capacity and treatment, and to recognise the increased survivorship from advances in treatment, we said we would welcome increased focus on improving access to cancer treatment and experiences of treatment and after care treatment and support.

Raising awareness of the causes of cancer and how it can be prevented

Our recommendations included:

  • All public campaigns must be communication accessible and inclusive, so they don’t disadvantage people with communication needs or poor health literacy. The messages must be accessible and understandable to all the population.
  • The Cancer Strategy must make an explicit commitment to supporting people with communication needs, and their families, to better access and understand information about risks, symptoms and how to seek help.
  • The Cancer Strategy commit to communication accessible information and resources.
  • Training, on better understanding people with communication needs, must be rolled out across all health and care settings.
Raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer

Our recommendations included:

  • The government develop appropriate, and communication accessible, information and resources for all people communication difficulties.
  • The expertise of speech and language therapists, as experts in accessible communication, is used to develop resources and campaigns.
How to get more people diagnosed quicker

Our recommendations included:

  • Primary care staff, including GPs, need more education sessions to enhance awareness and recognition of early presenting symptoms in cancers, such as swallowing problems.
  • Action to upskill the wider support network to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer.
How to improve access to cancer treatment and improve people’s experiences of cancer treatment

Our recommendations included:

  • The government needs to invest in training the current workforce to the highest standard and investing in the capacity of the future workforce.
  • The government invest in prehabilitation for all people with cancer to improve the success rate of their treatment.
  • The strategy commits to supporting people with communication problems to share their experiences and feedback.
  • All patient feedback is provided in easily understood ways.
  • All information and resources are communication accessible.
  • The government needs to invest in, not only the current workforce, but plan for the future cancer workforce.
How to improve after-care and support services for people and their families

Our recommendations included:

  • The government must invest in the cancer workforce if it is serious about achieving its early diagnosis ambition and increasing patient’s outcomes. Investing in speech and language therapists, across the pathway, will provide more timely support and rehabilitation.
  • Action is taken to ensure access to speech and language therapy for all people with cancer. Investment in community rehabilitation services will provide longer term support post-treatment.
Improving data and translating research into practice

We also made recommendations relating to improving data and translating research into practice. We highlighted:

  • The RCSLT Online outcome tool collecting therapy outcome measures.
  • Funds should be targeted at priority areas, for example the RCSLT research priorities for dysphagia which found that research exploring expiratory muscle strength training for the alleviation of swallowing difficulties in head and neck cancer patients is a top priority area.
  • Innovation and acceleration funding will enable the take up of evidence-based approach in to practice more easily – for examples, investing in access to specialist swallowing assessments (such as FEES and videofluoroscopy) to be able to inform post-treatment therapy exercises and recommendations.

More information

Access our full consultation response (PDF).

For more information on the role of speech and language therapy in supporting people with cancer see:

Head and neck cancer

Guidance, resources and opportunities to support you working with individuals with head and neck cancer

RCSLT factsheet on head and neck cancer (PDF)

Download our factsheet on supporting people with head and neck cancer