What happens after treatment for salivary gland cancer?
For some people with salivary gland cancer, 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 called 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. Our document, When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away, talks more about this.
When treatment ends, 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 x-rays and scans to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects. 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.
Most doctors recommend follow-up exams every few months for the first year after treatment, then every 2 to 6 months for the next year, and less frequently after that. If you had radiation therapy to the neck, your doctor will likely want to get blood tests as well to check your thyroid function.
Imaging tests such as CT scans may be done after treatment to get a baseline idea of what the head and neck area look like. Further imaging tests may be done if you later develop any signs or symptoms that might be due to a return of the cancer.
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.
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.
Should your cancer come back, our document called When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence can give you information on how to manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.
Your appearance and other changes
Surgery or other treatments can affect nerves and other structures in the face and neck. This can affect how you look and may have an impact on other functions such as speech and swallowing.
These issues can often be addressed after treatment has ended. Many surgical and non-surgical techniques can be used to correct these problems. For example, if you are having problems with speech or swallowing, your doctor may refer you to a physical or speech therapist.
Talk with your doctor or nurse about any other problems you are having. There are also groups that can provide support and help teach you how to manage any lingering problems you may have. Some of these groups are listed in the “Additional resources for salivary cancer” section of this document.
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 were 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, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Copies of any imaging studies, such as x-rays and CT scans (these can often be put on a DVD)
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
Last Medical Review: 09/21/2012
Last Revised: 09/21/2012