Moving on 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 details about this.
For other people, the cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemo, radiation, or other treatments 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.
After your treatment is over, ongoing follow-up is very important. During these visits, your doctors will ask about symptoms, do physical exams, and may order lab tests or x-rays and scans. Follow-up is needed to watch for treatment side effects and to check for cancer that has come back or spread.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks or months, but others can last the rest of your life. Please tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them. Use this time to ask your health care team questions and discuss any concerns you might have.
It is also important to keep health insurance. While you hope your cancer won't come back, it could happen. If it does, you don't want to have to worry about paying for treatment.
Most doctors recommend follow-up exams every few months for the first year after treatment, and then less often after that. If you had radiation treatment to the neck, your doctor will likely want to get blood tests to check your thyroid function.
You may be told 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 cancer does come back, further treatment will depend on where the cancer is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your overall health. For more information on dealing with cancer that comes back, please see the American Cancer Society document, When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.
Changes caused by treatment
Surgery or other treatments can affect nerves and other parts of the face and neck. This can change how you look and may have an impact on other things such as speech and swallowing.
These issues can often be addressed after treatment has ended. There are many ways to correct these problems. Some involve surgery and others do not. For instance, 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 problems you are having. There are also groups that can support you and help teach you how to manage any ongoing problems. Some of these groups are listed in the "How can I learn more about salivary gland cancer?" section.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer is found and treated, you may find yourself in the office of a new doctor. It is important that you be able to give your new doctor the exact details of your diagnosis and treatment. Make sure you have this information handy and always keep copies for yourself:
- A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you were in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home from the hospital
- If you had radiation treatment, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
- 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)
Last Medical Review: 09/28/2012
Last Revised: 09/28/2012