Living with mouth, head and neck cancer
During and after your treatment, you will have regular check-ups. These check-ups may include seeing your doctor and dentist, having a physical exam and tests such as blood tests, X-rays, scopes or scans.
If you are between check-ups or have a symptom or problem that worries you, let your doctor know without delay.
How your life will be affected
Treatment for mouth, head and neck cancers can sometimes bring big changes to your lifestyle. But there will be a team of health professionals ready to help you and your family manage and cope.
- Hearing: If your hearing is affected after treatment, there are prostheses or hearing aids available. It may be helpful to contact the Irish Deaf Society for further information and support.
- Eating: Eating normally is a common problem for patients after mouth, head and neck treatment. For most patients this does not last long. But for some it can be a more permanent change. These changes may be due to swelling and bruising after surgery, irritation after radiation, nausea, taste changes or loss of appetite.
The speech and language therapist and the dietitian will be carefully assess the cause of your eating problems and help you to manage them.
See the booklet Diet and Cancer for more information about eating problems.
- Body image: Treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery can change your appearance. They can affect your body image, which is how you see yourself. Adapting to these changes can take time. Your doctor and nurse can give you advice about prostheses or camouflage make-up.
If you have a partner, do discuss these changes together. You may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor as well. Contact the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 for more advice.
Two useful booklets from the Irish Cancer Society are Lost for Words and Who Can Ever Understand.
Some websites can offer support as well:
- Speech: Depending on the treatment you receive, you may experience changes to your speech. These changes could be temporary or permanent. The speech and language therapist will help you manage this side-effect through exercises, aids and prostheses. It can take time to adapt but it will get easier.
For more information please see our booklet on Understanding Cancers of the Mouth, Head and Neck.
There are many cancer support centres and voluntary groups around the country. If you feel they could help you and your family, call the Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700. The Nurseline can give you more information on counselling or support groups in your area.
If you are a smoker and would like to stop, the HSE Quit Team on 1800 201 203 is staffed by specially trained counsellors who will advise and support you.
Some websites can offer support to those who have head and neck cancers:
- Irish Cancer Society online community
- Saving Faces
- Changing Faces (if you have disfigurements of the face or body)
- Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC)
- Mouth Cancer Foundation
We can also help you cope with the emotional effects of a cancer diagnosis.