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An innovation that gives throat cancer patients their lost voice back

Bangalore, 8th January, 2016 – Throat cancer patients who have lost their voice can look forward to speaking again, without having to spend on thousands for an artificial voice box thanks to Dr. Vishal Rao – Head and Neck Surgeon–HCG, who has innovatedvoice box prosthesis, an artificial device made of silicone, that can help laryngectomized patients to speak again.

One of the major disadvantages for throat cancer patients is the removal of the voice box when they undergoLaryngectomy; they have their larynx removed surgically.  Now as larynxhouses the vocal cords, through which sound is produced. It also lets air travel from the lungs to the mouth. Since speech and communication not only forms a basic principle in our society to sustain life force, but also a right for freedom, peace and dignity, it is important for these cancer patients to have their voice box restored.

During laryngectomy when the trachea and esophagus are separated from each other, an opening between the food pipe and the windpipe can be created which is called as a tracheo-esophageal puncture. Even though the patients can eat through their mouths but they cannot speak due to the absence of the voice box.  As there was a need for an improved device at this point which would have one way valve that would enable laryngectomy patients to speak, Dr. Vishal Rao started researching further before the discovery was made.

Commenting on his innovation, Dr. Vishal Rao – Head and Neck Surgeon – HCG said, ‘If air passes through the food pipe in the lungs, it will vibrate and create noise which can be converted into intelligent speech with the coordination from brain. As food or water should not fall into the lungs, it is a one-way valve device. It weighs about 25 grams and is 2.5 cm long and is called as ‘AUM’ device as that is the sound which first resonated across the universe, thus regaining one’s voice is much like a rebirth. The imported prosthesis currently available in the market costs about 500 dollars (Rs30,000) and needs to be changed once in six months, which is not viable for many patients. My objective was to design something that is affordable; hence we came up with this device less than a dollar and gave them their voice back.’

Dr. Vishal Rao has used the device on many patients so far, one among the many successful casesbeing a 55-year-old watchman Mr. Ramakrishna from the Peenya Industrial Area who needed a change in the imported prosthesis and could not afford it. He was provided with the indian prosthesis and now has regained his voice.

Two years ago Dr. Vishal Rao treated him and arranged for prosthesis through donations. Though the shelf life of the device is only six months, Mr. Ramakrishna used it for two years as he could not afford a replacement.                

“Being a watchman, I was addicted to beedi to keep myself awake at night. When I was suffering from throat cancer, my voice box was removed and a western voice prosthesis was given which I used it for two years. But soon I had trouble eating as food was leaking through the device. Post using the new device by Dr. Vishal Rao, now i am doing much better and my problems are solved,” said Mr. Ramakrishna.

This innovation so far has bagged the state innovation award at a recent conference of oncologists. The ethical committee and the scientific committee at HCG have given its approval for its further research on the device.

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