Follow-up after treatment for head and neck cancer
Once your treatment is completed, you will have regular check-ups. These will continue for several years, and will happen frequently at first, then less so.
You may have scans from time to time, but the most important part of your follow-up will be your specialist’s examination of your head and neck. It’s also important you tell your specialist about any new symptoms you have or ongoing symptoms that aren’t improving.
If you have any problems or notice any new symptoms in between these check-ups, you should let your GP, specialist or nurse specialist know as soon as possible.
If you can’t attend a follow-up appointment, contact your doctor or clinic to arrange another appointment.
Making positive choices
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Coming to the end of your cancer treatment can be a time of mixed emotions. You’ll probably feel relieved but there can also be feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. It can take time to rebuild confidence and to come to terms with what you’ve been through.
You’ll probably be keen to get back to doing all the things you did before your cancer. But it may take time to recover from treatment.
There may be physical changes in the way you look, and possibly changes in some areas of your daily life, such as the way you speak or what you can eat. There will also be emotional changes to deal with so it’s important to give yourself time to adjust.
Support is available from the organisations listed on our database or you can speak to one of our cancer support specialists.
Gradually after treatment, you’ll find that day-to-day things that occupied you before cancer will start to fit back into your life. Going back to work and getting back to the interests you had before can be important steps forward.
Some people feel that although they wouldn’t have chosen to go through this experience, it’s changed them in positive ways and helped them to think about their priorities. They may decide to focus more on relationships with family and friends or on doing the things they’ve always wanted to do.
You may want to think about making changes to your lifestyle and find out more about healthy living. Perhaps you already followed a healthy lifestyle before your cancer, but you may now want to be more focused on making the most of your health. There are things you can do to help your body recover. These can also help improve your sense of well-being and lower your risk of getting other illnesses and some cancers.
It’s important to have a nutritious and well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, even if your appetite and interest in food have been reduced. Your dietitian will be able to advise you on ways to eat well.
If you’re a smoker, it’s important to try to give up. Smoking is the main cause of head and neck cancers and continuing to smoke puts you at greater risk of developing a second cancer.
Giving up smoking can be difficult but there is lots of support available. Speak to your doctor or call a stop smoking helpline for further advice and to find out where your local stop smoking service is.
Our information about giving up smoking has more advice and tips to help you succeed. There are organisations that can help you, such as Quit.
Cutting back on alcohol can also help. If you can’t stop drinking alcohol completely, it’s best to avoid spirits if you can.
This can be an important part of your recovery after treatment. It can improve your sense of well-being and build up your energy levels. It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
You should talk to your cancer specialist or GP before you make changes to your activity levels. Start slowly and increase your activity over time. You can read more about exercise and its benefits in our section on physical activity and cancer treatment.
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Complementary therapies may help you to feel better, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve some treatment side effects.
Relaxation, counselling and psychological support are available at many cancer treatment hospitals. Some hospitals also offer visualisation, massage, reflexology, aromatherapy and hypnotherapy. Therapies are sometimes available through cancer support groups or your GP. Many complementary therapists have private practices.
Talking to someone or sharing your experience
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Talking about your feelings can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation. There are lots of different ways to do this.
Try to let your family and friends know how you’re feeling so that they can support you.
Talking about your feelings isn’t always easy.
You can read some helpful tips about this in our section about talking about your cancer.
Self-help or support groups offer a chance to talk to other people who may be in a similar situation and facing the same challenges as you. Joining a group can be helpful if you live alone, or don’t feel able to talk about your feelings with people around you. Not everyone finds talking in a group easy, so it might not be for you. Try going along to see what the group is like before you decide.
Many people now get support through the internet. There are online support groups, social networking sites, forums, chat rooms and blogs for people affected by cancer. You can use these to ask questions and share your experience.
Our online community is a social networking site where you can talk to people in our chat rooms, blog your journey, make friends and join support groups.
Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who’s not directly involved with your illness. You can ask your hospital consultant, nurse specialist or GP to refer you to a doctor or counsellor, who is a specialist in the emotional problems of people with cancer and their relatives.
Our cancer support specialists can tell you more about counselling and let you know about services in your area.
Our section on emotional effects has more detailed information about feelings and emotions, and helpful tips on how to deal with them.