If you’re diagnosed with oral cancer, you’ll typically start treatment right away. Oral cancer is often treatable if it’s discovered early enough. Being proactive about treatment can not only help you feel better — it could potentially save your life. However, after oral cancer treatment, many patients worry whether they’re cured, whether the cancer will come back, and what their life will be like going forward. Here’s what you need to know.
Is the Cancer Gone For Good?
This depends on your specific cancer and your individual situation. For some people, the treatment successfully eradicates the cancer and they never have a recurrence. For others, the oral cancer can’t be entirely removed, but keeping it under control is possible. In cases where the can’t can’t be totally removed, patients may need to undergo regularly scheduled chemotherapy or other treatments to help them maintain their health for as long as possible.
Care After Your Oral Cancer Treatment
After your oral cancer treatment, you’ll be closely monitored by your treatment provider. It’s absolutely vital that you don’t miss any of your appointments, as these are the times when your dentist or doctor will monitor you to see how well the treatment worked. Additionally, your follow-up appointments may include imaging like MRI or CT scans to check for signs of oral cancer recurrence. Everybody has a different post-treatment care plan, based on the many individual factors that go into oral cancer treatment.
Your visits will usually occur every couple of months. This will continue for the first two years following oral cancer treatment since this is the time when recurrence is the most likely. After those first two years, you may be able to decrease your monitoring significantly.
What is Life After Treatment Like?
It’s important to understand that you may have an adjustment period following your oral cancer treatment. You are likely to have side effects that can last as little as a few weeks to as much as many years — or the rest of your life. In this situations, it’s important to understand that some side effects are the price that must be paid for an effective treatment that can save your life.
Side effects can often be managed quite effectively with the help of lifestyle changes, medications, or a combination of both. Your dentist and other medical care providers can help with this. Most patients find that life after oral cancer treatment can be much easier, more pleasant, and healthier if they stop smoking and drinking. After around a year of adjusting to life as a cancer survivor, most patients rate their quality of life quite high.
If You Notice New Symptoms
If you notice new symptoms, it’s vital that you report them to your medical care provider right away. Because the danger of recurrence is higher in the first couple of years after oral cancer treatment, it’s important to watch closely for any of the following changes.
- New ulcers inside your mouth
- New patchy areas in your mouth or on your lips
- Pain when you swallow
- The sensation of having a chronic lump in your throat
- Swelling in your tonsils
- Mouth pain while talking, eating, drinking, or at any other time
- Voice changes, such as your voice becoming hoarse
- New lumps in your mouth, in your lips, or in your neck
- Swelling in your neck, especially swelling concentrated on one side only
- Numb sensation in your mouth or lips
- Respiratory problems like continual coughing or wheezing
- Ear pain, especially if it’s only in one ear
As an oral cancer survivor, you’ll need to be more vigilant about watching out for signs and symptoms than most people are. As a person who already had cancer, you’re more vulnerable to having it again in the future, but by monitoring the things above closely you may be able to prevent a full-blown recurrence.
Dr. Steve A. Sedaros is an oral surgeon at Sedaros Oral Facial Surgery & Dental Implants in Melbourne, Florida. Dr. Sedaros and his team work closely with patients and their general dentists to provide many different types of oral surgery. From corrective jaw surgery to wisdom teeth removal to cancer treatments for oral cancer and beyond, Dr. Sedaros is here to help. Contact us for an appointment today.