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Trouble breathing in neck area

Posts: 12
Joined: Jul 2012

My husband had squamous cell carcinoma of the neck, which had metasize with no primary.  He has been done with all treatments since February 2013.  However, he is now having a hard time breathing it is as if his airway has narrowed due to radiation.  The lung doctor says lungs are fine but last Tuesday he went into respiratory failure and was on a vent for four days.  Home knows but still having hard time breathing, anyone has any suggestions?

I am looking for any suggestions or help I am so scared for him.

hwt's picture
Posts: 2330
Joined: Jun 2012

Difficulty breathing is very scary. I haven't seen any posts about difficulty breathing following radiation. I would seek medical attention.

Posts: 12
Joined: Jul 2012

we are going to nashville on tuesday to see an ENT that specializes in head and neck cancer.  his lungs are fine it is the airway in his neck that seems to have the obstruction issue.

Posts: 213
Joined: Feb 2013

I also have not heard of this issue due to radiation or chemo or surgery for that matter.  It must be very scarry.  Doctors must be looking for a cause and solution.  Please keep us inforrmed, if anyone can think of anything or has had this issue I am sure they will post soon. 

longtermsurvivor's picture
Posts: 1845
Joined: Mar 2010

Sorry to hear of the problems.  You need some more discussion with the treating physicians.  The radiation for throat cancer is mostly in the throat and neck area, above the lungs themselves.  The trachea is therefore heavily radiated, but the lungs, not so much.  If he went into respiratory failure from a radiation induced problem, that should have been from narrowing of the trachea.  They would have done an emergency tracheostomy and he should now be fine.  If he has some other kind of restrictive lung disease, it shouldn't be due to radiation, so something doesn't add up here, at least as I understand the story.  Obviously, if he  is continuing to have problems, this will need additional thought darned quick.  Fighting to breath is no fun at all.



Posts: 761
Joined: Apr 2012

When my husband was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer he underwent 35 radiation and 3 chemo treatments first.  When that ended the main problem he had was with swallowing because he couldn't.  They kept telling us it would take time.  His first PET/CT scan showed clear.  Then 2 months later I noticed that he was having trouble with his breathing.  He was getting very short of breathe.  First we saw the radiation/oncologist doctor and she immediately sent us to the ENT who scoped him in the office and said that first off there was another tumor and that one side of his vocal cords was paralyzed.  He then did a biopsy and trach and sent us to a head and neck specialist.  The trach sure helped my husband's breathing and he ended up with a complete laryngectomy and throat reconstruction due to radiation damage a month later.  Yes the cancer was back and he has been NED since March 2011 from laryngeal cancer.  Sure wish I could say the same for a second primary that has spread.

You should take your husband to see an ENT who knows about head and neck cancer and get a second opinion.  If he already has a trach then that needs to be check to make sure it hasn't narrowed.  When my husband first had his laryngectomy and breathes thru the hole in his neck, I used to wake up and night and have to poke him to see if he was alive since I couldn't hear him breathe or snore since the laryngectomy.  Still do from time to time.  Now all he does is complain about my snoring.  LOL

Wishing you and your husband the best -- Sharon


bjw1955's picture
Posts: 67
Joined: Apr 2012

I'm a little over 2 year Laryngeal cancer survivior that was left with a trach. In Jan. 2011 my ent dr found a golf ball size tumor on my voice box, after a biopsy and yes it was stage 3 Laryngeal cancer. I was already on oxygen prior to this . My team was put together, I went through 38 rads and 6 chemo, after 2 rads and my first chemo my hubby brought me home and I laid down to take a nap, I got back a few hours later and collasped in the floor and quit breathing, my hubby called the squad and the next morning my ent dr put an emergency trach in. I woke up 2 weeks later in ICU and was devasted. Couldn't talk and so on. My life had changed for ever, communication, words can't describe. I went through the most gruelsome treatment, my throat and around my trach was burnt raw, was in a nursing home for 4 months and didn't know whether I was going to live or not, thank goodness for a peg tube, I couldn't drink or eat. I never thought I would speak again. My hubby brought me home from the nursing home 2 years this month. In March 2012 I was fitted for a speaking valve and still had my lovely voice.I just got my trach out this past Feb. because the swelling in my neck because of the rads,and I also see a Pulmonary Dr. for my breathing. I would get a second opinion. I'm doing good now but i have COPD. bjw1955

rachel12yrsuv's picture
Posts: 435
Joined: Feb 2013


i have never heard of radiation cutting off airway,however, it can make swallowing not work at all sometimes and could aspirate to lungs and make it hard to breathe, maybe that is the issue?  Just a thought.



MarineE5's picture
Posts: 909
Joined: Dec 2005


This may seem like a strange question, but has your husband's neck become puffy and swelled? I ask this because this happened to me about 3 months or so after I completed my radiation treatments. My issues were tightening of my neck, a puffy face, looked like I had been in a fight the night before. trouble swallowing my food and labored breathing. The labored breathing came from the narrowing of my air passageway.

Lymphedema was a new word for me and I was sent to a Cancer Therapist that knew how to move the fluids around my face and neck. She taught me some stretching exercises and gentle massage to relieve the tightness. Here is the link to the stretching exercise and massage that is in the SuperThread.


I may be off target with my reply, but I thought I should mention it as it was several months afterwards that breathing became an issue for me.

My Best to Both of You and Everyone Here

Posts: 12
Joined: Jul 2012

yes it gets huge prior to one of these onsights of not breathing.  I need to clarify that his lungs are fine the breathing is in the airway in his throat.  the doctor has suggested a trachea but my husband is not wanting to do this at this time.  we are going to nashville on tuesday to meet with  an ent who specialize in cancer of the throat.  thanks for the excercises can't hurt.


George_Baltimore's picture
Posts: 303
Joined: Jun 2009

with my surgical ENT but when I updated him on my progress with prednisone, he mentioned that he thought my breathing difficulty was due to a narrowing in the nasopharynx area due to radiation many years ago.  After my last dilation, we tried a 7 day course of prednisone since that allowed me to swallow some small sips of water several months back.  Unfortunately, this time, it didn't work for the swallowing.  I did, however, discover that my breathing was helped by the prednisone.  I capped off my trach tube for two glorious days.  I had forgotten how nice it was not to clean out the tube every couple hours.  I breathed normally with it capped off.  After the prednisone was out of my system (24 hours later), my breathing was labored again with it capped so I had to take  the cap off.  When I emailed my doc what happened, it was then that he advanced the theory about the narrowing.  I have an appointment with him next Wednesday.  If I find out any earthshattering, I'll report back.

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