Coping with Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer

Executive Summary

Treatments of head and neck cancer result in causing various side effects and changes to the body of the patient and the results of treatment show variations among the patients. Sometimes the same treatment strategy used for a particular disease condition evolves with different effects. Hence, it is difficult to predict the outcome and impact of a specific treatment. Therefore, there are various coping-up strategies to mitigate the side effects of the treatment. Open communication with the expert regarding new signs or symptoms experienced by the patients helps plan ways to manage and relieve these symptoms and side effects effectively.

The patients seek professional therapies to mitigate the adverse emotional impacts during the treatment of head and neck cancer. The general physical side effects of each treatment option for early-stage as well as for locally advanced head and neck cancer are addressed by adopting supportive or palliative care provided by the healthcare team. Patients and their families are motivated to communicate with the medical team about their financial concerns. Several services help patients manage such a group of patients treating head and neck cancer. Caregivers play an essential role in caring for a person with head and neck cancer. Effective communication of the patient with the healthcare team is maintained regarding the side effects.

Coping-up Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer

Cancer treatments can cause various side effects and alterations to your body. The effects of treatment vary from person to person. Sometimes the same treatment strategy used for a particular disease condition creates different effects. Hence it is hard to predict the outcome and impact of a specific treatment on people.

 Patients can feel anxious about treating cancers related to the head and neck regions, which is quite natural. The side effects that are short-term or long-term are an inevitable part of such treatments. Patients must know that managing and relieving symptoms and side effects is integral to treating head and neck tumors or any disease condition ​1​. The health care team will devise strategies to prevent and cure possible side effects of treatment. It is an essential, inevitable part of treatment, regardless of the tumor type, disease gravity, age, or gender of the patient.

Coping with the physical side effects of treatment

Head and neck cancer treatment can cause many physical side effects. It can bring a wide range of changes to your body. The variations in a person’s physical health are influenced by factors like the type of tumor, its severity, treatment strategy used, the duration of treatment, and the patient’s overall health condition. Patients may find it difficult to chew and swallow food, which can be depressing at times and so, patients must talk with their healthcare team regularly regarding how they are feeling. Make sure to let them know about any discomfort you are experiencing.
Openly communicate any new signs or symptoms to your doctor as and when you start experiencing them. The same applies to the case of any new or a change in existing side effects. Talking with your doctor or healthcare team is vital, as only then they can plan ways to manage and relieve these symptoms and side effects effectively. Treating side effects and signs at the right time prevents the condition of the patient from worsening and helps them lead a comfortable life. Please keep track of anybody changes or side effects that you experience, as it will help you explain the scenario more effortlessly to the health care team.  Physical side effects can be short-term and long-term. Long-term side effects or late effects can last for an extended period, even after the active treatment period. Treating these late effects forms a vital part of the survivorship care plan.

Managing the barriers to treatment and care

Disease conditions can vary from one person to another. The outcomes of disease diagnosis and treatment can vary. There is no necessity for cases of similar disease conditions to share similar features. Such differences and variations can be called “health disparities.” Many communities and groups are denied quality medical care in the real world. The groups negatively affected include poor people, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ or sexual and gender minorities, older adults, adolescent and young adult populations, and people belonging to rural areas etc. If you face difficulty accessing quality treatment and care, communicate the concern with your doctor or health care team, or even other organizations. They will provide or help you with their services.

Coping with social and emotional effects of treatment

Cancers of the neck and head region and their treatment can take a tremendous toll on the physical and mental well-being of the person. Patients may experience many social and emotional effects after being diagnosed with a tumor. People will go through a lot of emotional, and mental turmoil. They will find it tedious to manage emotions like grief, sadness, anger, and anxiety. They will find it difficult to calm their mind and manage their stress level. Often people find it difficult to express their feelings and emotions to their close ones. In such cases, patients can seek professional therapies. Talking with a counselor or oncology social worker can also help effectively cope with the emotional effects of cancer ​2​.

Managing the costs of cancer care

Cancer treatment can be financially straining. This thought can create a lot of stress and anxiety in the patients and their family members. For many people, finance stands as a hindrance to seeking better treatment.

Some patients find that they had a lot of unplanned, extra expenses concerning their treatment, while others are forced to leave the treatment plan halfway because of being unable to manage the enormous cost. And such scenarios can have a very adverse impact on the patient’s health and life. Hence, patients are encouraged to talk about their financial troubles with a concerned health care team member. Moreover, there are many services and packages can help patients manage their treatment costs without much worry or tension.

Role of Caregivers 

Caregivers play a significant role in caring for a person suffering from head and neck cancers (or any disease condition in general). It might be family and friends who stand by the patients from the beginning, i.e., from disease diagnosis, and treatment until post-treatment care (sometimes even after that).

Caregivers have a range of responsibilities to manage and fulfill daily:

  • Giving emotional and physical support to the patients. Encouraging them to do activities. Cheering them up.
  • Communicate with the health care team. Caregivers are urged to accompany the patients during appointments and keep track of everything the doctor prescribes and advice.
  • Giving food and medicines on time.
  • Help patients cope with various symptoms and side effects. 
  • They should coordinate the patient’s appointments with the health care team.
  • Managing the transport of the patient for appointments.
  • Handling financial aspects like bills and insurance.
  • Helping the patient with household chores and other daily activities.

Communication with the health care team regarding side effects

Open conversations with the doctor are essential in treating disease conditions associated with the head and neck regions. Patients are encouraged to ask questions to the health care team or doctor regarding the side effects of treatment. They can ask:

  • What are the probable side effects of the treatment?
  • Explain the short term and long-term side effects?
  • When are these side effects likely to happen, and for how long?
  • How can we prevent, manage and relieve them?  

Be sure to communicate any change that you are experiencing. Patients should care to express even the tiniest effects or feelings that they are experiencing to the healthcare team. Seek their help to create a caregiving plan. Enquire how much care and support (physical, mental) you will require at home. Don’t hesitate to ask anything that comes to your mind regarding treatment, side effects or post-treatment care.


  1. 1.
    Sherman AC, Simonton S, Adams DC, Vural E, Hanna E. Coping with head and neck cancer during different phases of treatment. Head Neck. Published online 2000:787-793. doi: