Head and Neck Cancer (cont.)

Is follow-up treatment necessary? What does it involve?

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Regular follow-up care is very important after treatment for head and neck cancer to make sure the cancer has not returned, or that a second primary (new) cancer has not developed. Depending on the type of cancer, medical checkups could include exams of the stoma, mouth, neck, and throat. Regular dental exams may also be necessary. From time to time, the doctor may perform a complete physical exam, blood tests, X-rays, and CT, PET, or MRI scans. The doctor may continue to monitor thyroid and pituitary gland function with blood tests, especially if the head or neck was treated with radiation. Also, the doctor is likely to counsel patients to stop smoking. Research has shown that continued smoking may reduce the effectiveness of treatment and increase the chance of a second primary cancer. The NCI fact sheet Follow-up Care: Questions and Answers has more information about this topic.

What can people who have had head and neck cancer do to reduce the risk of developing a second primary (new) cancer?

People who have been treated for head and neck cancer have an increased chance of developing a new cancer, usually in the head and neck, esophagus, or lungs. The chance of a second primary cancer varies depending on the original diagnosis, but is higher for people who smoke and drink alcohol. Patients who do not smoke should never start. Those who smoke should do their best to quit. Studies have shown that continuing to smoke or drink (or both) increases the chance of a second primary cancer for up to 20 years after the original diagnosis. Information about smoking cessation is available from the CIS (see below) and in the NCI fact sheet Questions and Answers About Smoking Cessation.

Some research has shown that isotretinoin (13-cis-retinoic acid), a substance related to vitamin A, may reduce the risk of the tumor recurring (coming back) in patients who have been successfully treated for cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, and larynx. However, treatment with isotretinoin has not yet been shown to improve survival or to prevent future cancers.

Medically reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Medical Oncology

SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Last updated 9/19/2007

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2014

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Head and Neck Cancer - Causes Question: If known, what was the cause of your head or neck cancer?
Head and Neck Cancer - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms associated with your head or neck cancer?
Head and Neck Cancer - Diagnosis Question: Please describe the exams and tests that led to a diagnosis of head or neck cancer.
Head and Neck Cancer - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, surgery, or medication did you receive for your head or neck cancer?
Head and Neck Cancer - Causes Question: As a survivor of head or neck cancer, please describe your follow-up treatments.