What happens after treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer?
For many people with nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer coming back. (When cancer comes back after treatment, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are living full lives. Our document, Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence, gives more detailed information on this.
For other people, the cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty.
If you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It is very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask questions about any problems you may have and may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests (such as MRI or CT scans) to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects. Your health care team will discuss which tests should be done and how often based on the stage of your cancer and the type of treatment you received.
Most doctors recommend follow-up exams every few months for the first 2 years after treatment, then every 4 to 8 months for the next few years, and less often after this. If you had radiation therapy to the neck, your doctor will likely want to get blood tests as well to check your thyroid function.
You may be advised to see your dentist after treatment to check on the health of your teeth. Your doctor will also want to keep a close eye on your hearing, speech, and swallowing, which can be affected by treatment. If you are having problems with any of these, your doctor may refer you to a therapist for help with rehabilitation.
Imaging tests such as CT or PET/CT scans may be done after treatment to get an idea of what the nasopharynx and neck area now look like. Further imaging tests may be done if you later develop any signs or symptoms that might be caused by a return of the cancer.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to months, but others can last the rest of your life. This is the time for you to talk to your cancer care team about any changes or problems you notice and any questions or concerns you have.
It is very important to report any new symptoms to the doctor right away, because they may prompt your doctor to do tests that could help find recurrent cancer as early as possible, when the chance of successful treatment is greatest.
If cancer does recur, further treatment will depend on the location of the cancer, what treatments you’ve had before, and your health. For more information on how recurrent cancer is treated, see the section, "Treatment options by stage of nasopharyngeal cancer." For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you may also want to see our document, When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence. You can get this document by calling 1-800-227-2345.
It is important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who does not know anything about your medical history. It is important that you be able to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Make sure you have the following information handy:
- A copy of your pathology report(s) from any biopsies or surgeries
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report(s)
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that doctors prepare when patients are sent home
- If you had radiation therapy, a copy of your treatment summary
- If you had chemotherapy or targeted therapy, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Copies of any imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs, which can often be placed on a DVD
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
Last Medical Review: 08/08/2012
Last Revised: 08/08/2012