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The Path to Remission

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What does remission mean? What does no evidence of disease mean?

If a patient experiences complete remission, the primary symptoms associated with head and neck cancer should disappear or at least be markedly improved; there should be no evidence of the primary tumor on physical exam and CT or MRI scans should also have no evidence of disease at the site of the tumor or in other areas of the body.1National Cancer Institute (NCI) Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/ on February 19, 2013.

Although you may now be in remission, it is critical that you continue to be vigilant to find out if the cancer returns or if a secondary cancer grows. There is a higher probability of cancer returning (recurrence) or a new cancer occurring in the first few years.

Although this may be stressful and cause anxiety for you, it is best to identify cancer at an early stage. For example, among patients who are diagnosed with stage I head and neck cancer, 90 percent are likely to be cured, whereas among patients who are diagnosed at stage II head and neck cancer, only 70 percent are likely to be cured.2Argiris A, Karamouzis MV, Raben D, Ferris RL. Head and neck cancer. Lancet. 2008;371:1695-1709.

Therefore, you will need to undergo periodic follow-up physicals, scans and other tests according to a schedule. The specific schedule will depend on the specific type of cancer you had, in addition to the specific course of treatment you received. The clinicians will carefully assess you to confirm that the cancer has not returned and that you still have no evidence of disease.3Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2014. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2014. All rights reserved. Accessed June 18, 2014. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.NCCN.org. NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CANCER NETWORK®, NCCN®, NCCN GUIDELINES®, and all other NCCN Content are trademarks owned by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc.

 

It was an emotional rollercoaster. Your whole life is relying on one test result to come back to say, “We don’t see any more signs of cancer. We think we got it all.” Jason S. (tonsil cancer survivor)

References

1 National Cancer Institute (NCI) Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/ on February 19, 2013.

2 Argiris A, Karamouzis MV, Raben D, Ferris RL. Head and neck cancer. Lancet. 2008;371:1695-1709.

3 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2014. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2014. All rights reserved. Accessed June 18, 2014. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.NCCN.org. NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CANCER NETWORK®, NCCN®, NCCN GUIDELINES®, and all other NCCN Content are trademarks owned by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc.

4 Macdonald N, Shapiro A, Bender C, Paolantonio M, Coombs J. Experiences and perspectives on the GIST patient journey. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2012;6:253-62.

5 Alexander MV, Zajtchuk JT, Henderson RL. Hypothyroidism and wound healing: occurrence after head and neck radiation and surgery. Arch Otolaryngol. 1982 May;108(5):289-91.