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Follow up for nasopharyngeal cancer

You usually have follow up appointments every few months to check how you are and see whether you have any problems or worries. The appointments also give you the chance to raise any concerns you have about your progress.

People who have had nasopharyngeal cancer are sometimes more at risk of developing a new (second) cancer. So these appointments are very important.

What happens

Your doctor or nurse examines you at each appointment. They ask how you are feeling, whether you have had any symptoms or side effects and if you are worried about anything.

You might also have tests at some visits. These could include: 

  • nasendoscopy
  • blood tests
  • x-rays
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • ultrasound scans
  • ear tests

You might have a scan about 3 to 6 months after radiotherapy.

Generally, if everything is going well, you do not need further follow up scans. They are unlikely to provide any new information to you or your doctor. But you might have a chest x-ray every year.

You usually have regular blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. This is because some people develop low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism) after having external radiotherapy to the neck. If this happens you have to take tablets to replace the thyroid hormones.

You might also have blood tests 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 have appointments

At first, you have follow up appointments every 6 weeks or so. As time goes on, and if you stay well, your appointments gradually become less frequent: 

  • after 1 year your appointments might be every 2 to 3 months
  • after 3 years your appointments could be every 6 months, until at least 5 years
  • after 5 years you might might have 1 appointment every year, but this can vary

Between appointments

Contact your doctor or specialist nurse if you have any concerns. You should also contact them if you notice any new symptoms between appointments. You don’t have to wait until your next visit.

Many people find their check ups quite worrying. A hospital appointment can bring back any anxiety you had about your cancer.

It can help to tell someone close to you how you’re feeling. Sharing your worries can mean they don’t seem so overwhelming. Many people find it helpful to have counselling after cancer treatment.

You can also ask to see other members of your support team, such as the speech and language therapist or dietitian.

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.

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.
Last reviewed: 
21 Mar 2018
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines
    R Simo and others
    Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130, Supplement 2, Pages 97-103

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer: EHNS-ESMO-ESTRO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    AT Chan and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2012. Volume 23, Supplement 7, Pages 83-85

  • Diagnosis and Management of Head and Neck Cancer
    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), October 2006