Quantifying Fibrosis and Swallowing Function/Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer Patients Post Radiation Treatment

The PI of this project was: Joanne Robbins, PhD

This project was funded by: Department of Medicine new pilot project grant

The term of this project was: March 2009 to December 2010

The number of subjects scanned during this project was: 40

In this study, the amount of fibrosis that occurs as a late side effect of radiation treatment in head and neck cancer patients will be quantified. Fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue due to injury or long-term inflammation. Radiation therapy is the process of using ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors in cancer patients. Radiation therapy injures or destroys cells in the area being treated making it impossible for these cells to continue to grow and divide. It has been shown that fibrosis causes stiffness in the muscles involved in the irradiated area. The stiffness caused by fibrosis can cause swallowing problems (dysphagia). Dysphagia can cause food to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs and can cause pneumonia or even death. One aim of this study is to develop and evaluate unique MR imaging methods to measure fibrosis of head and neck structures in patients who have difficulty swallowing after radiation treatment for cancer. With these imaging methods, the relationship between swallowing and the amount of fibrosis will be examined. It is hoped that a more thorough understanding of this relationship will lead to better treatment and prevention of swallowing problems in cancer patients who receive radiation treatment.