In the United States, head and neck cancers make up nearly 3 percent of all cancers in the country. This includes various types of cancers affecting the head and neck. Men are more than twice as likely to be affected by head and neck cancer than women are.
What You Need to Know About Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancers have been known to affect various parts of the body. In many instances this includes the top layers of mucus membranes in the neck and head. These cancers can also affect the voice box, nasal passages, tongue, salivary glands and other parts of the mouth and throat.
Many cases of head and neck cancers have been linked to some form of substance abuse such as chewing tobacco, smoking or drinking alcohol. Other factors that place individuals at rick for head and neck cancers include head and neck radiation, HPV, poor oral hygiene, missing teeth, Epstein-Barr virus infection, consuming certain salted foods or preservatives during childhood and exposure to wood dust.
How Can Palliative Care Help?
Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is a term used to describe specialized medical care tailored for people with serious illnesses like neck and head cancer. This type of care focuses on improving the quality of life for you and your family by providing you with relief from the pain, symptoms and stress associated with serious illnesses.
Your personalized palliative care team is composed of a team of top doctors, social workers, nurses and other specialists who work collaboratively to provide you with an additional layer of support. This option is appropriate for people of any age no matter what stage of your illness you are currently in. In many cases, palliative care can be combined with curative treatment.
How Palliative Care Can Help
The symptoms you experience will vary based on the type and location of your cancer. Generally speaking, symptoms may include trouble swallowing, a change in your voice, or a lingering lump or sore that will not go away.
A treatment plan for head and neck cancer might include a combination of treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The specific cancer treatment will be dictated by the type of cancer you have, where it is located and whether or not it has spread (state of your cancer).
Your palliative care team will spend a large amount of time with you and your family to ensure that your condition is fully understood. They will also help you weigh your treatment options based on your personal goals and needs.
Keep in mind that may treatments may involve side effects such as fatigue (feeling weak or tired), pain, nausea or vomiting. In addition to these, damage to the salivary glands is also common. This condition can cause dry mouth. Your palliative care team can help you find relief with medicines that stimulate the salivary glands.
Another common concern for those undergoing surgery is the scars. In addition to providing medicine to alleviate pain, your palliative care team will assist you and your loved ones with any emotional traumas that result from the surgery.
Cancers in the voice box or throat may cause voice loss. Additionally, this can lead to trouble eating, breathing, chewing and drinking. In some cases, a G-tube (provides nutrition directly to the stomach) or tracheotomy (creates a breathing hole in the neck) may be required.
Your Palliative Care Team
The specialists on your palliative care team are experts in the treatment of the many symptoms of serious illnesses such as neck and head cancer. The pain and symptom management services that they provide allow you to cope with the aggressive treatment plan that is designed to fight your disease.
Each member of your palliative care team works cohesively with your other doctors, speech therapists, physical therapists, social workers and dieticians to ensure that you get the specialized care you need. Your team can also treat any of the emotional side effects that may stem from your treatments such as depression and anxiety.
At any time following your diagnosis with head and neck cancer, you can enlist the help of a palliative care team. Keep in mind that the sooner you bring them in, the better.
Supporting Family Members
Palliative care specialists are there for you and your family when you need them. They strive to help you and your family as they learn to cope with the difficulties that head and neck cancer may bring. They are specially trained to handle everything from family caregiver stress to the side effects caused by the medical treatments. Throughout your journey, they serve as your sounding board and a strong defense against symptoms of anxiety, pain, discomfort or depression.
In addition to keeping you and your family as comfortable as possible, your palliative care team will help you and your love ones make decisions, both large and small. They enable you to better communicate and clarify your goals with your family and other doctors.
These are just a few of the many benefits of seeking palliative care.
Ways to Get Palliative Care
If you or someone you love could benefit from palliative care, simply ask your doctor for a referral. Alternatively, you can also find a hospital in your area that has a palliative care team. Finally, contact Harbor Light Hospice directly to learn how our palliative care services can benefit you or a loved one.