After treatment for laryngeal cancer

After your treatment has ended, you will have check-ups at the hospital for several years.

It may take time to recover from treatment for cancer of the larynx, both physically and emotionally. You may want to think about your lifestyle and things you can do to help your recovery. These include:

  • giving up smoking
  • cutting down on alcohol
  • eating a healthy diet
  • being active (talk to your doctor before starting to exercise).

Some side effects that you had during treatment may take time to improve. Others may start after your treatment has finished. Always tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms or worries you have. Late effects of treatment can include:

  • problems swallowing
  • dry mouth
  • dental problems
  • low thyroid hormone (thyroxine) levels, which can cause tiredness and weight gain
  • lymphoedema – a collection of fluid that causes swelling in the neck.

You may find that complementary therapies help you feel better but always check with your healthcare team first.

Follow-up after your treatment

Once your treatment has finished, you will have regular check-ups at the hospital. These will continue for several years. You may also have scans from time to time. It’s important you tell your specialist about any new symptoms you have or any symptoms that aren’t improving. Don’t wait until your next appointment to report any new symptoms.

If you can’t attend a follow-up appointment, contact your doctor or clinic to arrange another one.


Making positive choices after treatment

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 your confidence and to come to terms with what you’ve been through.

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.

You may want to think about making changes to your lifestyle and find out more about healthy living. Perhaps you followed a healthy lifestyle before your cancer and you’re keen to carry 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 cancers.

The Cancer Laryngectomee Trust, the National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs and Changing Faces can also provide support to help you adjust after treatment.

Smoking

If you’re a smoker, it’s important to try to give up. Smoking is the main cause of head and neck cancers. Stopping smoking reduces the risk of your cancer coming back and the risk of developing a second cancer. It also reduces the risk of other conditions, such as heart disease. Giving up smoking can be difficult, but there’s lots of support available. Speak to your doctor or specialist nurse, or call a stop-smoking helpline for further advice and to find out where your local stop-smoking service is.

Alcohol

Cutting back on alcohol is also important. If you can’t stop drinking alcohol completely, it’s best to avoid drinking spirits.

Eating well

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. Eating small meals often can make eating easier. You may need to continue seeing a dietitian until you have reached a healthy weight and are able to eat a well-balanced diet without support. Your dietitian can advise you on ways to eat well and help with any problems you may have. They may prescribe high-calorie drinks to help you build up your diet. You may also need support from a speech and language therapist if you are having difficulty with swallowing.

Physical activity

This can be an important part of your recovery after treatment. It can help you feel better in yourself and help build up your energy levels. It also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Talk to your cancer specialist or GP before you start exercising. Start slowly and increase your activity over time.

Exercise doesn’t have to be particularly strenuous. You can start gently and build up the amount of physical activity you do. Whatever your age or physical health, there will be some kind of exercise you could try, such as walking, hiking, cycling or swimming. Activities like gardening, dancing and playing sport are also good.

I have adjusted to my new voice level and in close proximity can enjoy excellent communication. Loud environments can be very challenging, but family and friends are most understanding.

Jacob


Late effects of treatment for cancer of the larynx

Some side effects that develop during treatment can take time to improve. Sometimes side effects may become permanent. Other side effects may develop some time after treatment has finished (late effects). You may not experience any late effects, or they may range from being mild to more troublesome.

Always let your doctor or specialist nurse know about any problems you have. There may be ways of treating or managing late effects if they happen.

Problems swallowing

This can be caused by thickening of the wall of the gullet (oesophagus), narrowing of the gullet, or loss of sensation when swallowing. A speech and language therapist can give you help and advice with swallowing problems.

Dry mouth

Radiotherapy can damage your salivary glands, leaving you with a dry mouth. This effect may be temporary, but sometimes can be permanent. Having a dry mouth can make eating difficult. You may need to carry water with you, or eat softer foods with plenty of sauces and gravies, which will be easier to swallow. Some people find having a humidifier by their bed at night can help keep the mouth and throat less dry. Some people keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if they wake up. You can use mouthwashes and protective gels to coat the lining of your mouth, which can help. Your cancer specialist or GP can prescribe these for you and you can talk to the staff at the radiotherapy outpatient department about ways to cope with a dry mouth.

Dental problems

If you have a dry mouth, you’re more at risk of problems with your teeth, as saliva protects your teeth from decay. It’s important to go for regular check-ups every 3 to 6 months with your dentist and oral hygienist and follow a regular daily mouth care routine to prevent tooth decay. Your dentist may prescribe fluoride products and will advise you on how to brush your teeth and keep your gums healthy.

Low levels of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine (hypothyroidism)

Surgery or radiotherapy treatment can affect the thyroid gland, which is near the larynx. The thyroid gland may produce less of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine. You will have blood tests to monitor your thyroid hormone levels. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include tiredness and weight gain. If you develop this condition, you will be given thyroxine tablets.

Lymphoedema

This is a collection of a fluid called lymph that causes swelling in the neck. It can develop when lymph nodes have been removed or damaged by surgery or radiotherapy. The earlier that lymphoedema is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat, so always let your doctor or nurse know if you have any swelling. They may refer you to a lymphoedema specialist.


Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies may help you feel better and reduce any stress and anxiety.

Relaxation, counselling and psychological support are available at many hospitals. Some hospitals also offer visualisation, massage, reflexology, aromatherapy and hypnotherapy. But it is important not to have massage directly over a tumour or lymph nodes (glands) affected by cancer. Therapies are sometimes available through cancer support groups or your GP. Many complementary therapists also have private practices.

Not all complementary therapies are suitable for people who have just finished radiotherapy, so it’s important to check with your healthcare team first if you’re thinking of having one.

Back to Care after treatment

Who can help?

Laryngeal cancer may affect you emotionally and practically. There are people and organisations who can offer help, support and advice.