Purpose: Tongue mobility has shown to be a clinically interesting parameter on functional results after tongue cancer treatment which can be objectified by measuring the Range Of Motion (ROM). Reliable measurements of ROM would enable us to quantify the severity of functional impairments and use these for shared decision making in treatment choices, rehabilitation of speech and swallowing disturbances after treatment.
Method: Nineteen healthy participants, eighteen post-chemotherapy patients and seventeen post-surgery patients were asked to perform standardized tongue maneuvers in front of a 3D camera system, which were subsequently tracked and corrected for head and jaw motion. Indicators, such as the left-right tongue range and the deflection angle with the horizontal axis were extracted from the tongue trajectory to serve as a quantitative measure for the impaired tongue mobility.
Results: The range and deflection angle showed an excellent intra- and interrater reliability (ICC 0.9) The repeatability experiment showed an average standard deviation of 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm for every movement, except the upward movement. The post-surgery patient group showed a smaller tongue range and higher deflection angle overall than the healthy participants. Post-chemoradiation patients showed less difference in tongue ROM compared with healthy participants. Only a few patients showed asymmetrical movement after treatment, which could not always be explained by T-stage or the side of treatment alone.
Conclusion: We introduced a reliable and reproducible method for measuring the ROM and to quantify for motion impairments, that was able to show differences in tongue ROM between healthy subjects and patients after chemoradiation or surgery. Future research should focus on measuring patients with oral cancer pre- and post-treatment in combination with the collection of detailed information about the individual tongue anatomy, so that the full ROM trajectory can be used to identify changes over time and to quantify functional impairment.