A team of doctors and other professionals discuss the best treatment and care for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
The treatment you have depends on:
- where your cancer is
- its size and whether it has spread (the stage)
- the type of cancer
- your general health and level of fitness
Your doctor will talk to you about your treatment, its benefits and the possible side effects.
NHS guidelines say that all people with head and neck cancer should be under the care of an MDT. Your team includes:
- specialist head and neck surgeons
- cancer specialists
- a specialist nurse
- a dietitian
- a restorative dentist (prosthodontist)
- a speech therapist
If you are concerned that a multi disciplinary team is not looking after you, do ask about it. It may be that you have only seen one specialist. But the MDT team have still got together with your test results and case notes to discuss the best treatment options for you.
You might need to see a variety of doctors and other health professionals who specialise in different aspects of treatment.
Cancer specialist (oncologist)
An oncologist is a doctor who specialises in treating cancer. This is most often with radiotherapy, or chemotherapy, but not surgery.
Head and neck surgeons
There are several different types of specialist surgeon you might see.
ENT doctors are specialists in treating conditions of the ear, nose, throat and neck. They are always qualified surgeons. They are also known as otorhinolaryngologists.
Oral surgeons are also called oral and maxillofacial surgeons. They are highly qualified, needing to be trained both as doctors and dentists. They specialise in the surgical treatment of a wide variety of conditions affecting the mouth, jaw, face and neck, including reconstructive surgery.
Plastic surgeons are also part of the head and neck multidisciplinary teams. Plastic surgery means the moulding of the surface, and sometimes the deep structures of the human body. It can include reconstruction of an area where a cancer has been removed. Plastic surgery is common after surgery to remove a cancer of the head or neck.
Neurosurgeons are surgeons who specialise in surgery to the brain and nervous system.
Restorative dentist (prosthodontist)
A restorative dentist is a specialist in replacing lost teeth and tissues. They are also called prosthodontists. They will assess your teeth before you have treatment. They may recommend that you have some teeth removed. For example, if they are decaying or loose, so that they don't cause problems later on.
The restorative dentist will also advise you on how to look after your mouth and teeth during and after your treatment. You may need to visit a dental hygienist for more help. It is important to keep your teeth and mouth clean to reduce the risk of infection.
The dentist will help to plan your recovery with your surgeon, so that you can speak and eat as well as possible afterwards. They may suggest using special false teeth, dental implants, or a replacement part (prosthesis) for missing teeth or any structure in the mouth.
A prosthesis will also help to make your facial appearance as normal as possible after major surgery.
Head and neck cancer clinical nurse specialist
Your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a qualified nurse who has specialist knowledge of cancers of the head and neck. They help to organise care between doctors and the other health professionals you need to see. They also support you through your treatment, and make sure you have the information you need to understand your cancer and treatment.
Other health professionals
You might also need help and support from other health specialists. These could include:
- a dietitian
- a speech therapist
- an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) – some nasopharyngeal cancers can spread to the eyes and inside the skull
- a clinical psychologist
There may be a social worker or benefits advisor attached to your cancer unit who can advise you on benefits and grants you may qualify for.
You could ask to see a smoking cessation advisor if you want to stop smoking. It can be difficult if you have smoked for a long time, but there is support available. Cutting out smoking can improve your overall health and reduce the risk of getting another head and neck cancer.