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Coping

Find out what you can do, who can help and about how to cope with a diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Your feelings

You might have a number of different feelings when you're told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:

  • numb
  • frightened and uncertain
  • confused
  • angry and resentful
  • guilty

You may have some or all of these feelings. Or you might feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it is hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Feelings are a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.

Physical effects

Your nasopharyngeal cancer might have already spread to nearby parts of the head and neck. These could be the:

  • nose and paranasal sinuses
  • mouth and oropharynx
  • cranial nerves – these nerves are close to the nasopharynx and control our sense of smell, sight and eye movement
  • eye or tissue surrounding the eye

If this happens, you might have changes in:

  • the way you look
  • how you can eat
  • your hearing
  • your sight

All these changes can be very difficult to cope with and affect the way you feel about yourself. They can affect your self esteem and the way you relate to others, especially those very close to you. If you are having a sexual relationship, one or all of these changes might also affect your sex life.

You might also have to cope with feeling very tired and lethargic a lot of the time. This is common in a lot of people who have cancer in the head and neck area, especially if the cancer is advanced.

Helping yourself

You are more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information also helps you to know what to expect.

Taking in information can be difficult at first. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask and help remember the answers.

Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.

Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.

Treatment causes side effects. These can be mild or more severe. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects or if they get worse. They can treat them and help you find ways of coping.

Talking to other people

Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you and them.

Help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.

You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Relationships and sex

The physical changes you have can affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to manage this

Coping practically

Practical things you and your family might need to cope with include:

  • money matters
  • financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
  • work issues
  • childcare

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting early help with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.

Giving up smoking

Your doctor will advise you to try to give up smoking if you still smoke after your treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Giving up smoking can be very difficult, especially if you have smoked for a long time. But it does give you many benefits. You reduce your risk of getting another head and neck cancer, or a different smoking related cancer. Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you contact details of services that can help you stop smoking.

Last reviewed: 
23 Aug 2014
  • AJCC Cancer Staging Manual (7th edition)
    American Joint Committee on Cancer
    Springer, 2010

  • Textbook of uncommon cancers (4th edition)
    Raghavan D, Blanke C, Johnson D and others
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

  • Head and Neck Cancer: multidisciplinary management guidelines

    Roland NJ and Paleri V (eds). 4th edition. London: ENT UK, 2011

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer: EHNS-ESMO-ESTRO Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up

    Chan ATC, Gregoire V, Lefebvre JL et al. Annals of Oncology 23 (suppl 7) vii83-85, 2012

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