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Nasopharyngeal cancer follow up

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

This page has information on follow up appointments with your doctor after having nasopharyngeal cancer. You can find the following

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Nasopharyngeal cancer follow up

After your treatment has finished, your doctor will want you to have regular check ups. People who have had nasopharyngeal cancer are sometimes more at risk of developing a new (second) cancer. So these appointments are very important. Your doctor will check for any side effects of the treatment and make sure that the cancer has not come back.

At the check up your doctor will examine you and ask whether you have any new symptoms, or are worried about anything. If you do have any new symptoms, they may suggest having a scan. If you had external radiotherapy to your neck, you may have regular blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. This is because some people develop low thyroid hormone levels after this treatment.

How often will I have check ups?

At first, your check ups will be every 6 weeks or so. As time goes on, and if you stay well, they will gradually become less frequent. If you are worried or notice any new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor know as soon as possible. You don’t have to wait until your next appointment.

Worrying about check ups

Many people find their check ups quite worrying. They can bring back all the worry about your cancer. You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you’re feeling. It is quite common nowadays for people to have counselling after cancer treatment. For more information about counselling, look in the coping with cancer section.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating nasopharyngeal cancer section.

 

 

What will happen at a follow up appointment

After your treatment has finished, your doctor will want you to have regular check ups. People who have had nasopharyngeal cancer are sometimes more at risk of developing a new (second) cancer. So these appointments are very important. Your doctor will check for any side effects of the treatment and make sure that the cancer has not come back. Your check ups may include

You won’t have all of these tests at every visit to your specialist. But you will 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 that you have a scan to find out what is causing the symptoms.

You may have a scan about 3 to 6 months after radiotherapy. Generally, if everything is going well, you will not have further 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.

If you had external radiotherapy to your neck, your doctor may want to do 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 (hypothyroidism) after external radiotherapy to the neck. This can cause chronic tiredness and can be managed with thyroid hormone tablets.

Your doctor may also take blood to check whether your treatment has affected your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland is in your brain and controls many functions of the body by producing chemical messengers (hormones).

 

How often you will have check ups

At first, your check ups will be every 6 weeks or so. As time goes on, and if you stay well, they will gradually become less frequent. After a year your check ups might be every 2 to 3 months. And then after 3 years your appointments could be every 6 months until you reach at least 5 years. It might be every year after this, but can vary.

If you are worried or notice any new symptoms between appointments, you must let your doctor know as soon as possible. You don’t have to wait until your next appointment. You can also ask to see other members of the team, such as the speech and language therapist or dietician if you need to.

 

Continuing to smoke after head and neck cancer

If you are a smoker and continue to smoke after your treatment for head and neck cancer, your doctor will advise you to try to give up. 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. You will reduce your risk of getting another head and neck cancer, or other smoking related cancer. We have some information about how to stop smoking. Your doctor or specialist nurse can also give you contact details of services to help you stop smoking.

 

Worrying about check ups

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

If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, look in our counselling organisations section. It is quite common nowadays for people to have counselling after cancer treatment. To find out more about counselling and how to find a counsellor, look at the counselling pages in our coping with cancer section. At the hospital you can talk to your specialist nurse. Many hospitals also have counsellors and psychologists who can support you.

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Updated: 27 August 2014