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Head and neck cancer

  • The Head and Neck Cancer Rehabilitation Program is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute to ensure the best and most coordinated recovery from the effects of cancer and its treatment.

    Many individuals who are treated for head and neck cancers develop difficulty with eating, swallowing, stiffness, swelling (lymphedema) and weakness in the jaw, neck and shoulders.

    Studies have shown that the risk of permanent disability can be reduced by rehabilitation therapies started early in the course of cancer treatment. Rehabilitation can be beneficial months or even years after cancer treatment.

    Program overview

    The Head and Neck Cancer Rehabilitation Program is staffed by a physician, nurse coordinator and Courage Kenny rehabilitation therapists who specialize in the unique problems of individuals with head and neck cancer.

    Courage Kenny speech-language pathologists are all certified in the use of the VitalStim®, utilizing the most advanced equipment, the Experia model.

    VitalStim is a form of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), where a small, carefully calibrated current is delivered to the motor nerves of the patient's throat through specially designed electrodes, causing the muscles responsible for swallowing to contract.

    Courage Kenny physical and occupational therapists are certified lymphedema therapists who also have expertise in neuromuscular conditions associated with cancer treatment.


    A consultation with a physical medicine specialist in cancer rehabilitation is the first step in developing an individualized program for each patient.

    After the first evaluation we will set up an individualized treatment program.

    Video swallow study

    A video swallow study is recommended for entry into the Head and Neck Cancer Rehabilitation Program and will be ordered by a Courage Kenny provider. It should be completed at entry into the program as a baseline for treatment, even if a prior study has been done.

    The study will be conducted by the speech-language pathologist and the radiology staff at the location where patients are receiving therapy. The speech services and radiology services for this study are billed separately.

    Speech-language pathology and voice therapy

    Based on the results of the rehabilitation evaluation and the video swallow study, speech-language pathology is provided one to five times a week. This therapy is set up by the nurse coordinator and is designed to address the entire process of eating, swallowing and nutrition as a whole.

    During this therapy, the speech-language pathologist works on strengthening and mobility for the tongue, face, jaw and larynx (Adam's apple), and also addresses speech and voice.

    Speech-language pathologists work with patients who need augmentative communication devices that aid in the production and /or comprehension of language.

    Speech-language pathologists also deal with cognition: assessing and treating difficulties with thought organization, memory, planning, and problem solving in order to maintain safety in one's environment.

    Lymphedema and musculoskeletal therapy

    Physical and occupational therapy referrals are made after patients have been evaluated for weakness, pain, restricted mobility and lymphedema. Therapy takes place one to five times a week. Every effort is made to coordinate with the speech therapy schedule if possible.

    Other services

    Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing

    Referrals for acupuncture, massage, nutrition can be made as needed with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

    LiveWell Fitness Center

    A cancer fitness package is available through Abbott Northwestern's LiveWell Fitness Center. Services include consultations with an exercise physiologist, nutritionist and personal trainer for those individuals who need more personal assistance regaining strength and endurance. These services, to which the medical director or nurse practitioner can make a referral, are not covered by medical insurance.

    Insurance and billing

    Patients will receive separate bills for services provided by rehabilitation therapies, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing services, and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Associates physician practice fees. Patients should contact their insurance carriers to verify which providers and services are covered by their insurance.

  • Make an appointment

    A referral from your health care provider is needed before therapy may begin.

    Call 612-863-2123.

    therapist shows patient a model of the esphagus

    A cancer rehabilitation therapist explains to a patient how cancer treatment affected his ability to swallow.

    Services and locations