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Original Investigation
December 2013

Evaluation of Swallow Function After Tongue Cancer Treatment Using Real-Time Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A Pilot Study

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • 2Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • 3Department of Speech Pathology, Keck Hospital of University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • 4Department of Speech and Hearing Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;139(12):1312-1319. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2013.5444

Importance  Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has the advantage of imaging swallow function at any anatomical level without changing the position of patient, which can provide detailed information than modified barium swallow, by far the gold standard of swallow evaluation.

Objective  To investigate the use of real-time MRI in the evaluation of swallow function of patients with tongue cancer.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Real-time MRI experiments were performed on a Signa Excite HD 1.5-T scanner (GE Healthcare), with gradients capable of 40-mT/m (milli-Tesla per meter) amplitudes and 150-mT/m/ms (mT/m per millisecond) slew rates. The sequence used was spiral fast gradient echo sequence. Four men with base of tongue or oral tongue squamous cell carcinoma and 3 age-matched healthy men with normal swallowing participated in the experiment.

Interventions  Real-time MRI of the midsagittal plane was collected during swallowing. Coronal planes between the oral tongue and base of tongue and through the middle of the larynx were collected from 1 of the patients.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Oral transit time, pharyngeal transit time, submental muscle length change, and the distance change between the hyoid bone and anterior boundary of the thyroid cartilage were measured frame by frame during swallowing.

Results  All the measurable oral transit and pharyngeal transit times of the patients with cancer were significantly longer than the ones of the healthy participants. The changes in submental muscle length and the distance between the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage happened in concert for all 60 normal swallows; however, the pattern differed for each patient with cancer. To our knowledge, the coronal view of the tongue and larynx revealed information that has not been previously reported.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study has demonstrated the potential of real-time MRI to reveal critical information beyond the capacity of traditional videofluoroscopy. Further investigation is needed to fully consider the technique, procedure, and standard scope of applying MRI to evaluate swallow function of patients with cancer in research and clinic practice.