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Preparing for the Cancer Journey

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Your family member or friend with head and neck cancer may experience changes during the course of treatment and recovery. Being aware of these variables will help you make plans to lessen the chances of, or even prevent, potential adverse outcomes.

Changes one may experience during the cancer journey

The patient is likely to experience changes in the quality of his or her voice or ability to speak. Approximately 34 to 70 percent of people with head and neck cancer who receive radiation therapy developed a speech impairment post-treatment.1Chen H-C, Evans KFK, Salgado CJ, Mardini S. Methods of voice reconstruction. Seminars in Plastic Surgery. 2010;227-232.

Your loved one may also experience weight loss at some point during the head and neck cancer journey.2Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org. Some patients with head and neck cancer are even undernourished before beginning treatment due to complications associated with the tumor.3Doyle C,Kushi LH,Byers T, et al;2006 Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer Survivorship Advisory Committee; American Cancer Society.Nutrition and physical activity during and after cancer treatment: an American Cancer Society guide for informed choices. CA Cancer J Clin.2006;56:323-353.

A patient’s psychological well-being may be affected as well. People diagnosed with head and neck cancer often experience depression; approximately one in five patients experience depression after completing radiation therapy, and one in three people are reported to experience depression many years after the completion of treatment.4, Katz MR, Kopek N, Waldron J, Devins GM, Tomlinson G. Screening for depression in head and neck cancer. Psychooncology. 2004;Apr13(4):269-80.5Terrell JE, Fisher SG, Wolf GT. Long-term quality of life after treatment of laryngeal cancer. The Veterans Affairs Laryngeal Cancer Study Group. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998 Sep;124(9):964-71.

http://vimeo.com/64108655

Making a plan

During the cancer journey, it may help to record the following information periodically:

  • Record the names of important supporters, which can include members of your loved one’s cancer care team and additional caregivers. It may be helpful to keep a written record of their contact information and any recommendations they give.
  • Record the names and contact information of support groups.
  • List the steps you and your loved one should take at different points of the cancer journey and any decisions you should make together. In the next section, Strategies for Success, we will review steps you may wish to follow before an appointment with a head and neck specialist.
There’s going to be panic, but there also needs to be a sense of directing the panic in the right direction.Tony L. (oral cancer survivor)

More about preparing for the cancer journey

The following articles go into more detail about preparing for the cancer journey:

Strategies for Success

This article discusses ways to optimize the outcome of your loved one’s cancer journey.

Cancer Journey Resources

This page lists several helpful resources that you as a caregiver for someone with head and neck cancer may find useful in navigating the cancer journey.


References

1 Chen H-C, Evans KFK, Salgado CJ, Mardini S. Methods of voice reconstruction. Seminars in Plastic Surgery. 2010;227-232.

2 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.

3 Doyle C,Kushi LH,Byers T, et al;2006 Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer Survivorship Advisory Committee; American Cancer Society.Nutrition and physical activity during and after cancer treatment: an American Cancer Society guide for informed choices. CA Cancer J Clin.2006;56:323-353.

4 Katz MR, Kopek N, Waldron J, Devins GM, Tomlinson G. Screening for depression in head and neck cancer. Psychooncology. 2004;Apr13(4):269-80.

5 Terrell JE, Fisher SG, Wolf GT. Long-term quality of life after treatment of laryngeal cancer. The Veterans Affairs Laryngeal Cancer Study Group. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998 Sep;124(9):964-71.