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Oncology-Related Communication Disorders



  • prof. dr. Michiel van den Brekel (NKI/AVL & ACLC), senior researcher, coordinator
  • prof. dr. Olga Fischer (ACLC), senior researcher
  • dr. Rob van Son (NKI/AVL & ACLC), senior researcher
  • dr. Anne Bannink (ACLC), senior researcher
  • dr. Lisette van der Molen (External members: NKI/AVL), senior researcher
  • dr. Gwen van Nuffelen (External members: Antwerp University Hospital), senior researcher
  • Klaske van Sluis (NKI/AVL & ACLC), PhD candidate on Rob van Son and Lisette van der Molen’s project September 2015
  • Manon van der Laaken (ACLC), PhD candidate on Michiel van den Brekel’s project September 2016
  • Bence Halpern (NKI/AVL & ACLC), PhD candidate on Michiel van den Brekel and Rob van Son’s project July 2018


One of the key aims of these research projects is to investigate if, and how, speakers learn to compensate for changes in speech and voice as a result of head and neck cancer. It is assumed that physiological limitations constraint certain communicative and language functions, which can impact language behaviour. All research has a clinical focus and there are strong ties between the ACLC and the Netherlands Cancer Institute-Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. There is extensive collaboration with the Antwerp University Hospital. This research has six major branches:

  • Phonetics of oncology-related pathological speech
  • Predicting and synthesizing pathological speech
  • Automatic evaluation of oncology-related pathological speech
  • Tools and resources for Speech Research and Speech and Language Therapists
  • Conversation analysis of physician-patient interaction

Research projects

PhD projects:

  • Predicting substitute voice source characteristics after laryngectomy. Klaske van Sluis
  • Predicting and synthesizing plausible speech examples after oral cancer treatment, Bence Halpern
  • Physician-Patient communication about quality of life in head and neck cancer consultations.  Manon van der Laaken

Research highlights in 2019

Manon van der Laaken worked on the interaction between doctor and patient during the opening of the follow-up cancer consultation, more specifically on the complexity of the deceptively simple question, ‘How are you?’. Together with Anne Bannink she published a paper on this topic in Discourse Studies: Openings in follow-up cancer consultations: The ‘How are you?’ question revisited.

Klaske van Sluis worked out acoustic analyses on pre and post total laryngectomy data. The study revealed that the acoustic contrast between the Dutch consonants /t/ and /d/ is reduced in tracheoesophageal speech. Together with her supervisors Paul Boersma and Rob van Son and her student Marijn Kapitein, she wrote a conference paper about this study which was accepted at the International Conference of Phonetic Sciences which will be held in Melbourne in 2019. In 2018 Klaske van Sluis collaborated with Gili Yaron, a postdoc researcher in the field of philosophy and qualitative methods. Together with Anne Kornman, Michiel van den Brekel, and Lisette van der Molen they performed a qualitative study into the lived experiences of women after total laryngectomy. Eight women were interviewed to identify specific needs in the pre-operative and rehabilitation phase. Klaske van Sluis presented the results of this study at the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies Conference in Argentina, as well as in the Nederlandse Werkgroep hoofdhals Tumoren Werkgroep and at the [N]OAP dag Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication. In 2018 Klaske van Sluis presented the general scope of her work and preliminary outcomes at the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Stem Spraak taalpathologie conference.

In 2019, Odette Scharenborg from Technical University Delft joined Bence Halpern’s project as a co-promoter. Bence submitted his first paper to Interspeech 2019 about articulatory to acoustic synthesis. Bence also initiated a collaboration with the University of Groningen to collect articulatory data, which could be used to synthesise oral cancer speech and understand pathological speech better. These results were presented in several venues, such as the Deep Learning Journal Club in the NKI and the TAPAS Training Events. Kicky van Leeuwen was a Master Student in our group who also submitted a paper on MRI-video based vowel classification to Interspeech 2019. The paper found that the vowel triangle representation used by linguists is also used by deep residual networks.


Improving Quality-of-Life after cancer treatment has been a long term goal of research at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. Important aspects of this goal are to involve patients more in decision making, shared decision making, and to inform patients better about the consequences of treatments. Our efforts to predict and simulate speech pathologies after cancer treatment, and to synthesize realistic samples of post-treatment patient’s speech, will allow us to better inform patients about the consequences of treatments and to help them make better decisions about these treatments.

Interactions in doctor-patient communication are a hot topic in psychosocial medicine. Our emphasis on conversation analysis and language aspects is quite new and will bring insights that can contribute to a better interaction. This of course has an important impact on society.

The development of tools to better assess and train patients with communication handicaps aims to have an impact on treatment. If indeed this will lead to better outcome, social functioning and quality of life, its impact in society is substantial.