Managing side effects
Treatment for head and neck cancer is often difficult both physically and emotionally, and it will take some time to recover. Side effects can be temporary, long-lasting or permanent, and some will need ongoing management and treatment.
Learn how to manage these common side effects:
- mouth problems such as mouth sores and dry mouth
- changes to taste, smell and appetite
- swallowing problems, including using a feeding tube
- malnutrition and weight loss
- changes to how you talk
- breathing changes, including having a breathing tube (tracheostomy) or hole (stoma) and restoring speech
- ongoing pain, numbness and stiffness
- changes to how you look
- impact on sexuality and intimacy
- changes to vision or hearing
- ongoing swelling known as lymphoedema.
You are unlikely to have all of these side effects, and some people have just a few or none. Your treatment team can give you an idea of what to expect and watch out for after your treatment.
If you do experience any of these side effects, ask your treatment team which health professionals can help you manage them. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and support.
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Sophie Beaumont, Head of Dental Oncology, Dental Practitioner, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Bena Brown, Speech Pathologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Senior Research Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research, QLD; Dr Teresa Brown, Assistant Director, Nutrition and Dietetics, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Lisa Castle-Burns, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Ben Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, GenesisCare Rockhampton and Brisbane, QLD; Elaine Cook, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Andrew Foreman, Specialist Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Tony Houey, Consumer; Dr Annette Lim, Medical Oncologist and Clinician Researcher – Head and Neck and Non-melanoma Skin Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The University of Melbourne, VIC; Paula Macleod, Head, Neck and Thyroid Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Dr Aoife McGarvey, Physiotherapist and Accredited Lymphoedema Practitioner, Physio Living, Newcastle, NSW; Rick Pointon, Consumer; Teresa Simpson Senior Clinician, Psycho-Oncology Social Work Service, Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW.
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