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Coping with nasopharyngeal cancer

You might have lots of emotions to cope with when you are diagnosed with cancer. And the treatment and cancer can cause changes in your body which can affect how you feel in yourself.

There is support available to help you cope during and after treatment.

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's hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Experiencing different feelings is 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 parts may include:

  • 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 the cancer has spread, then you might have changes with:

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

Taking in information can be difficult, especially when you have just been diagnosed. 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.

Coping with side effects

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 if 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. We have cancer information nurses you can call on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Or you may prefer to see a counsellor.

Relationships and sex

The physical changes you have can affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to help 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 help early 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, which include:

  • reducing your risk of getting another head and neck cancer
  • reducing your risk of getting a different smoking related cancer
  • helping your recovery by preventing some of the side effects

Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you contact details of services that can help you stop smoking.

Last reviewed: 
23 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
23 Feb 2024
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    American Joint Committee on Cancer
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    R Simo and others
    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130, Supplement 2, Pages 97-103

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    P Bossi and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2020