Follow up appointment

You will have regular follow up appointments to check on your recovery and to help you with any side effects of treatment.

What happens

You will have regular check ups after treatment. It is very important with head and neck cancers to make sure the cancer has not come back, or a new cancer hasn't developed.

People who have had a head and neck cancer are sometimes more at risk of developing a new (second) cancer. 

Your check ups may include:

  • a physical examination
  • endoscopy
  • blood tests
  • x-rays
  • CT or MRI scan
  • ultrasound scans
  • regular dental check ups

If you had external radiotherapy to your neck, your doctor would do regular blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. Almost 25 to 55 in 100 people (25 to 55%) treated with external radiotherapy to the neck will develop low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism). This can cause chronic tiredness.

Your doctor may also use blood tests to see if 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).

You will not have all of these tests at every visit to your specialist. But your doctor will probably examine you at each appointment.

Your doctor will ask how you are feeling, whether you have had 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 frequent follow up scans because they are unlikely to provide any new information to you or your doctor. Where there could be changes that cannot be seen by your doctor, for example in the brain, scans may form part of your routine follow up. Your team will organise them when appropriate.

You may have a yearly chest x-ray to check that there isn't any spread to your lungs.

How often you have check ups

Generally, people with head and neck cancers are followed up for a minimum of 5 years, but depending on your type of cancer, you might have follow up appointments for life.

You might have follow ups every 2 months during the first 2 years and then every 3 to 6 months in the years after that.

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.

Seeing a speech and language therapist (SLT)

You may need to go back to hospital to see the speech and language therapist if you have had any changes to your speech. Your cancer specialist or nurse specialist will arrange this when you attend the outpatient clinic.

If you have a check up coming up, and would like to see a speech and language therapist at the same time, you could telephone their clinic or your cancer specialist's secretary to arrange this.

Having your eyes checked

If the treatment has affected your eyes or eyesight, you are likely to need regular check ups.

Your cancer specialist (oncologist) or eye specialist (ophthalmologist) will recommend how often this should be.

If you smoke

If you are a smoker and continue to smoke following your treatment for any head and neck cancer, your doctor is very likely to try and convince you to give up.

Continuing to smoke can reduce the effectiveness of your treatment and increase the risk of another cancer developing. It can also make side effects of treatment more severe.

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. 

Your cancer specialist, specialist nurse or GP can give you advice and support.

Worrying about check ups

It is normal to worry about check ups after everything you may have been through since you were first diagnosed.

If you are feeling well and are getting on with your life, a hospital appointment can bring all the worry back.

You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you are feeling. If you are able to share your worries, they may not seem quite so hard to cope with.

There are some counselling organisations if you want to talk to someone outside your friends and family. 

Last reviewed: 
18 Nov 2020
Next review due: 
17 Nov 2023
  • Improving outcomes in head and neck cancers

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, November 2004 (updated June 2015)

  • Head and Neck Cancer Multidisciplinary Management Guidelines

    V Paleri and N Roland

    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, volume 130, number S2, May 2016

  • Radiation-induced hypothyroidism in head and neck cancer patients: a systematic review

    M  Boomsma and J Langendijk

    Radiotherapy and Oncology : Journal of the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology. 2011 Apr; 99 (1):1-5. 

  • Risk of second primary malignancies in head and neck cancer patients treated with definitive radiotherapy

    S Pollard and others

    Precision Oncology. 3, 22 (2019)

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