Oropharyngeal cancer

Follow-up care

You will need regular check-up of your mouth, throat and neck after treatment for oropharyngeal cancer. This will include a physical exam and checking your nose and throat with a thin, flexible tube with and camera (nasoendoscopy).

Some people may also need imaging studies such as CT, MRI or PET scans during follow-up. Ask your doctor if you need any of these scans. It is important to keep up with follow-up meetings, to make sure that if the cancer comes back, it is caught and treated as early as possible. If you have any concerns between visits, you should contact your doctor.

People with smoking related oropharyngeal cancer have a higher risk of getting another cancer in their head and neck such as the throat or voice box. This is another reason to keep your follow-up visits to your doctor. People who smoke can reduce the risk of their cancer coming back or getting a new cancer, if they quit smoking. Ask your health care team for advice if this applies to you.

Mental health for people with cancer

Sometimes this is referred to as psychosocial aspects or survivorship.

Being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment can lead to extra worries or concerns for you and the people caring for you. Depending on the treatment, you may experience any of the following:

  • low mood or depression

  • anxiety

  • disfigurement

  • difficulties with eating

  • difficulties with speaking

  • changes in sexual activity.

You may have got through the diagnosis and treatment for laryngeal cancer, but you may be finding it difficult to deal with some of the side effects of treatment. Speak with you doctor about any difficulties you may be experiencing. Your doctor may give you a referral to a psychologist or another healthcare professional who can help you. Speak with your family and friends too about any concerns you may have. 

You may find it helps to join a patient support group and speak with others who are having treatment for head and neck cancer. You can also find help and advice in online self-help resources such as beyondblue.

Further information about coping with cancer is available here

Prognosis

Prognosis means the chance of recovery and cure. In oropharyngeal cancer, the prognosis depends on:

  • the HPV status of the cancer

  • the stage of the cancer

  • whether you smoke.

Staging systems for oropharyngeal cancer can help give a guide to prognosis, but are often not very accurate at predicting the chance of cure for a given person. It is best to discuss your prognosis with your doctor. Usually, if the cancer has not come back after 5 years, you would be considered to be cured.