Living as a Nasopharyngeal Cancer Survivor

For most people with nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. The end of treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, yet it’s hard not to worry about cancer coming back. This is very common if you’ve had cancer.

For other people, the cancer might never go away completely. Some people may get regular treatment with chemotherapy or other treatments to try and help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. 

Life after cancer means returning to some familiar things and also making some new choices.

Follow-up care

After you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It's 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 had.

Most doctors recommend follow-up exams at least every few months for the first 2 years after treatment, then less often as time goes on. If you had radiation therapy to the neck, your doctor will check your thyroid function with blood tests once or twice a year.

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're having problems with any of these, your doctor may refer you to a therapist.

Imaging tests such as CT or PET/CT scans may be done within 6 months 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's 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. This is when the chance of successful treatment is greatest.

Ask your doctor for a survivorship care plan

Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include: 

  • A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
  • A schedule for other tests you might need in the future, such as early detection (screening) tests for other types of cancer, or tests to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
  • A list of possible late- or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
  • Diet and physical activity suggestions
  • Reminders about your appointments with your primary care provider (PCP), who will monitor your general health care 

Keeping health insurance and copies of your medical records

Even after treatment, it’s very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think about cancer coming back, this could happen.

At some point after your cancer treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know about your medical history. It’s important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Learn more in Keeping Copies of Important Medical Records.

Can I lower my risk of NPC progressing or coming back?

If you have (or have had) NPC, you probably want to know if there are things you can do that might lower your risk of the cancer growing or coming back, such as exercising, eating a certain type of diet, or taking nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear if there are things you can do that will help.

Adopting healthy behaviors such as not smokingeating wellgetting regular physical activity, and staying at a healthy weight might help, but no one knows for sure. Still, we do know that these types of changes can have positive effects on your health that can extend beyond your risk of NPC or other cancers.

About dietary supplements

So far, no dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals, and herbal products) have been shown to clearly help lower the risk of NPC progressing or coming back. This doesn’t mean that no supplements will help, but it’s important to know that none have been proven to do so.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines in the United States – they do not have to be proven effective (or even safe) before being sold, although there are limits on what they’re allowed to claim they can do. If you’re thinking about taking any type of nutritional supplement, talk to your health care team first. They can help you decide which ones you can use safely while avoiding those that might be harmful.

If the cancer comes back

If the cancer does recur at some point, your treatment options will depend on where the cancer is located, what treatments you’ve had before, and your overall health. For more information on how recurrent cancer is treated, see Treatment Options, by Stage of Nasopharyngeal Cancer.

For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you may also want to see When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.

Could I get a second cancer after treatment?

People who’ve had NPC can still get other cancers. In fact, NPC survivors are at higher risk for getting some other types of cancer. Learn more in Second Cancers After nasopharyngeal Cancer.

Getting emotional support

Some amount of feeling depressed, anxious, or worried is normal when cancer is a part of your life. Some people are affected more than others. But everyone can benefit from help and support from other people, whether friends and family, religious groups, support groups, professional counselors, or others. Learn more in Life After Cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Head and Neck Cancers, Version I.2018 -- February 15, 2018. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/head-and-neck.pdf on April 24, 2018.

Last Medical Review: September 24, 2018 Last Revised: September 24, 2018

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