One Voice Fund Gives Cancer Victims a Chance to Speak Again

Cancer of the larynx affects 30,000 people each year, in many cases causing the removal of a patient’s voice box, and with it, the voice.  A small plastic device called a TEP is a patient’s only hope of regaining the ability to speak.  But because most public insurance plans do not cover TEPs, many laryngeal cancer patients are literally speechless.

That’s where the University of Illinois at Chicago’s One Voice Fund ( comes in.  The fund, sponsored by UIC’s Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, provides TEPs for patients with limited insurance, or who cannot afford several hundred dollars to buy them.

“One Voice gives many patients real hope again, after the trauma of cancer, intensive treatment, and the loss of their vocal capacity,” said Dr. Wenig, Professor of Otolaryngology and Director, the Head & Neck Surgery Center.  “For patients to be able to talk with their families or coworkers, that brings the true restorative power of healing and hope.”

A TEP, or tracheoesophageal prosthesis, is a small plastic button inserted into an opening made by a surgeon between the esophagus and the trachea.  A valve in the device keeps food out of the trachea but lets air into the esophagus, enabling patients to speak.  Within weeks of surgery, many patients begin learning to speak again with a TEP.

While a TEP does not restore normal speaking, many patients are able, with speech therapy, to regain functional speech for work and family activities, Dr. Wenig said.  Some patients require a change of TEP from time to time, even annually.  Because five-year laryngeal cancer survival rates are in excess of 60 percent, he added, many patients can return to fairly normal lives, and do so for some time.

“Even for patients who need frequent changes of TEPs to maintain their speech, it’s so exciting to see people go back to their lives, jobs, and families, with a real, functioning voice to support them,” Dr. Wenig said.

The One Voice Fund was founded earlier in 2009, and has organized fundraisers, including a spring used book sale, to raise money for its programs, Dr. Wenig said. 

Laryngeal cancer is most common in smokers, people over 55, African-Americans, and those who consume alcohol (especially in conjunction with tobacco).  Patients with previous cases of head and neck cancer are also more likely to develop a second case.  Among younger patients, it has recently been associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV).