Effect of gabapentin on swallowing during and after chemoradiation for oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer

Heather M. Starmer, Wuyang Yang, Raju Raval, Christine G. Gourin, Marian Richardson, Rachit Kumar, Bronwyn Jones, Todd McNutt, Sierra Cheng, Harry Quon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The aim of this study was to examine the impact of gabapentin (neurontin) on swallowing and feeding tube use during chemoradiation (CRT) for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), and physiologic swallowing outcomes following completion of treatment. A total of 23 patients treated for OPSCC with concurrent CRT and prophylactically treated for pain using gabapentin were assessed. Historical controls were matched for T stage and primary site of disease. Timing of PEG use and removal were recorded. Video fluoroscopic swallowing studies were completed post-treatment to assess physiologic outcomes as well as penetration-aspiration scores (PAS). Functional oral intake scale (FOIS) scores were determined at the time of swallowing evaluation to assess diet level. Patients treated with gabapentin began using their PEG tubes later (3.7 vs. 2.29 weeks; P = 0.013) and had their PEG tubes removed earlier (7.29 vs. 32.56 weeks; P = 0.039) than the historical controls. A number of physiologic parameters were found to be less impacted in the gabapentin group, including oral bolus control (P = 0.01), epiglottic tilt (P = 0.0007), laryngeal elevation (P = 0.0017), and pharyngeal constriction (P = 0.002). PAS scores were significantly lower in the group treated with gabapentin (1.89 vs. 4; P = 0.0052). Patients receiving gabapentin had more advanced diet levels at the time of the initial swallowing study as evidenced by their FOIS scores (5.4 vs. 3.21; P = 0.0003). We conclude that patients using gabapentin for pain management during CRT appears to do well maintaining swallow function during treatment and have favorable post-treatment physiologic swallowing outcomes. Prospective evaluation is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)396-402
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Deglutition
  • Deglutition disorders
  • Dysphagia
  • Gabapentin
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Swallowing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Speech and Hearing


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