At Sylvester, we offer complete, ongoing care and support – from diagnosis and treatment through survivorship. We’re here for you long after your cancer treatment is finished. We provide expert care and support to relieve symptoms to give you the best quality of life possible. From pain relief therapies and nutritional guidance to mental health support, you can count on us.
After head and neck cancer treatment, you’ll continue to see your cancer care team at Sylvester for ongoing checkups. Your doctor will tell you how often to come for appointments, including a physical exam and imaging tests like MRI or PET scans. These visits are part of your survivorship care, which allows us to keep a close eye on your health and make sure cancer hasn’t returned. It’s also an opportunity for you to ask questions and tell your doctor about any changes or side effects.
Managing head and neck cancer treatment side effects
Our goal is to help you feel your best. Your doctor will talk to you about your oral health and make sure you have the support you need to live well, such as speech and swallowing rehabilitation or help to quit smoking or using alcohol.
Radiation therapy side effects
Although radiation therapy is precise, treatment side effects are common in head and neck cancers. That’s because many vital structures are in a small space. If you experience side effects, we offer expert guidance, care, and support to relieve symptoms, including speech and swallowing rehabilitation to treat hoarseness or swallowing problems like aspiration (breathing in food or liquids).
Radiation therapy can cause other side effects, including:
- Dental problems, such as dry mouth, gum infections, and cavities
- Dry skin
- Changes in taste or loss of taste
- Digestive issues, such as weight loss or acid reflux
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
Surgery side effects
Head and neck cancer surgeons are highly skilled in delicate surgery, but treatment can cause side effects. You may need care to manage symptoms, including:
- Antibiotics or hyperbaric oxygen therapy for wound healing
- Additional surgery to treat strictures (tight or narrowed areas) or to improve your appearance
- Massage and other approaches to treat lymphedema – fluid buildup in your arms – if lymph nodes are removed
- Pain medicines or injections for nerve or neck pain (cervical radiculopathy)
- hysical therapy to improve head, neck, and shoulder movement and rebuild muscular strength and flexibility
Chemotherapy side effects
Chemotherapy-related side effects may include:
- Low blood counts, such as anemia, can cause tiredness.
- Changes in kidney function
- Peripheral neuropathy (weakness, numbness, or pain in your hands and feet)
Some types of chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. Our audiologists provide hearing tests and treatments like hearing aids. After chemotherapy is over, your hearing may return gradually. Your audiologist will adjust your hearing aid as your hearing improves.
Psychosocial side effects
When you have head and neck cancer, it can be emotionally challenging during and after treatment – you may be frustrated with side effects, or worried cancer will come back. You may have difficulty concentrating, lose interest in activities you used to enjoy, lack motivation, or withdraw from family and friends. These can be signs of depression, and many people experience them after cancer treatment.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Sylvester offers cancer support groups where you can meet others who relate to your experiences. Support groups let you get advice and encouragement from other survivors. We can also help you connect with national organizations that support people with your specific type of cancer.
You may also benefit from seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in treating people after cancer treatment. Your therapist can help you work through your feelings and improve your mental and emotional outlook.
Smoking during or after your cancer treatment affects your body’s ability to heal and increases the risk of complications after cancer surgery. It can make your treatment less effective and increase your risk for cancer treatment side effects and cancer recurrence.