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Follow up for mouth cancer

Men and women discussing mouth cancer

This page has information about follow up appointments with your doctor after having mouth or oropharyngeal cancer. You can find information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Follow up for mouth cancer

After your treatment has finished, you will have regular check ups. This is to make sure that the cancer has not come back or that a new cancer has not developed.

At the check up your doctor will examine you. They will ask how you are feeling, and whether you have had any new symptoms or are worried about anything. Check ups may also include blood tests, X-rays, scans and dental check ups. You won’t have all these tests at every visit though.

How often will I have check ups?

At first, you will need check ups every month. If all is well the appointments will become less frequent. After 5 years you might be able to stop check ups. But this is only a general guide. If you are worried or notice any new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor or specialist nurse know as soon as possible. You don’t have to wait until your next appointment.

You may need to go back to hospital to see the speech therapist if you have had any changes to your speech or difficulty in swallowing.

Worrying about check ups

Many people find their check ups quite worrying. A hospital appointment can bring all the worry about your cancer back to you. You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you feel. It is quite common nowadays for people to have counselling after cancer treatment. Look in the coping with cancer section for information about counselling.

 

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What happens at follow up appointments

After your treatment has finished, you will have regular check ups. This is very important with mouth and oropharyngeal cancers. Your doctor checks to make sure that the cancer has not come back and that a new cancer has not developed. People who have had these types of cancer are sometimes more at risk of developing a new (second) cancer in the head and neck area. Your doctor will examine you at every appointment. Depending on the type of cancer you had your check ups may include

You will not have all of these tests at every visit to your specialist. But you will probably have a physical examination at each appointment. Your doctor will ask how you are feeling, and whether you have any new symptoms or are worried about anything. If you do have any new symptoms, your doctor may suggest a scan to make sure all is well. Generally, if everything is going well, you will not have follow up scans because they are unlikely to provide any new information to you or your doctor. But you may have a yearly chest X-ray to check that your lungs are healthy.

 

Checking your thyroid hormone levels

If you had external radiotherapy to your neck, you will have regular blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. This is because about 30 to 40 out of every 100 people (30 to 40%) develop low thyroid hormone levels after external radiotherapy treatment to the neck. Low thyroid hormone levels are called hypothyroidism. This can cause chronic tiredness.

 

Seeing a speech therapist

You may need to go back to hospital to see a speech therapist if you have had any changes to your speech. The speech therapist can also help with any difficulty in swallowing. You can arrange to see a speech therapist by asking your doctor or specialist nurse when you attend the outpatient clinic. Or if you have a check up coming up, you could telephone the clinic or your specialist’s secretary.

 

How often you have check ups

At first, you will need check ups every month. If all is well this will change to every 2 months in the second year, and every 3 months in the third year. After 3 years your check ups are likely to be 6 monthly. If all is well 5 years on and there is no sign of the cancer you might be able to be discharged. But this is only a general guide and your check ups might be more or less often. This depends on your type of cancer, the treatment you have had, and how your recovery is going.

If you are worried or notice any new symptoms between appointments, you must let your doctor or specialist nurse know as soon as possible. You don’t have to wait until your next appointment.

 

Continuing to smoke after mouth cancer

If you are a smoker, your treatment team will encourage you to give up before you start your treatment. Stopping smoking can help to make the treatment work better and reduce the risk of another cancer developing. Giving up smoking can be very difficult, especially if you have smoked for a long time. But giving up will have many benefits for you. There is information about how to stop smoking on the Cancer Research UK website.

 

Worrying about check ups

Many people find their check ups quite worrying. This is a normal reaction. If you are feeling well and getting on with your life, a hospital appointment can bring all the worry about your cancer back to you. You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you feel. If you are able to share your worries, they may not seem quite so bad.

It is quite common nowadays for people to have counselling after cancer treatment. If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, look at the counselling organisations page in the counselling section. The organisations can put you in touch with a local counsellor.

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Updated: 16 October 2014