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Managing Side Effects

Treatment for head and neck cancers can cause both short- and long-term side effects that affect your quality of life. At Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, our expert teams work with you to manage and prevent side effects.

Radiation Therapy Side Effects

Radiation therapy has become more and more targeted over the years, reducing the risk for side effects. However, since so many important structures are in a small space in your head and neck, side effects are still common among head and neck cancer patients.

Your doctor will help you plan to prevent these side effects and find the right treatment if side effects do occur. Your treatment for radiation side effects may include:

  • Tips and products to help manage and relieve symptoms of dry mouth
  • Nutrition tips related to loss or change in taste
  • Moisturizing products for skin dryness
  • Nutrition therapy to prevent weight loss and help you avoid acid reflux
  • Regular blood tests to monitor you for hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Specialized dental care to prevent cavities, gum infections, and other problems
  • Speech and swallowing rehabilitation for problems like dysphagia (trouble swallowing), aspiration (breathing in food), or hoarseness

During your follow-up appointments, you should speak to your doctor about any health problems you are experiencing.

Surgery Side Effects

Surgery for head and neck cancer can affect many different structures, from your throat to your skull. Though surgery is performed as carefully as possible, you may still need treatment to manage side effects, including:

  • Antibiotics or hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment for wound healing
  • Additional surgery to treat strictures (tight or narrowed areas) or to improve appearance
  • Massage and treatment from lymphedema specialists to reduce lymphedema (fluid buildup in the arms) if you have had lymph nodes removed
  • Pain medicines or injections for nerve pain or cervical radiculopathy (neck pain)
  • Physical therapy to improve shoulder dysfunction, head and neck movement, increase range of motion, and rebuild strength

Your cancer care team can refer you to the right experts to receive these treatments.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy related side effects most commonly include low blood counts, changes in renal function and peripheral neuropathy. Low blood counts such as anemia can cause fatigue. We have a document you can use with information of  iron rich foods . Peripheral neuropathy is a weakness, numbness and perhaps pain, usually in the hands and feet.  Some types of chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. Our audiologists can help manage your hearing loss by performing hearing tests and providing hearing aids. After chemotherapy is over, your hearing may begin to return slowly. Your audiologist can help adjust your hearing aid as your hearing changes.

Psychosocial Side Effects

Head and neck cancer survivors may face emotional difficulties during and after treatment. You may feel frustrated by side effects or worried about cancer recurrence. At Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, we offer many support groups   to help you meet others who understand your experience and can give you advice. These support groups are also a chance for you to voice your challenges and fears in a safe, caring environment.

Your oncology provider may also recommend that you see a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in caring for patients after cancer treatment. These therapists can help you improve your mental health after treatment.