Minimising side effects of head and neck cancer

Minimising side effects of head and neck cancer

  • Bethan Harland - Macmillan Head and Neck Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • 21st September 2017

Challenges or head and neck cancer patients

Head and neck cancers can affect a person’s ability to do things that many of us take for granted. Eating, drinking, talking and even swallowing saliva can be affected by both the original cancer and the side-effects of treatment. Both surgery and radiotherapy can alter the patient’s appearance leaving patients concerned about how they appear to others. Patients may have to cope with supportive measures such as tracheostomy or a feeding tube through the nose or the abdomen. 

Minimising side effects

The aim of the head and neck medical team is to try to cure or control the cancer while trying to minimise side effects, which may cause loss of function or disfigurement. From the time of diagnosis, patients’ individual needs are taken into consideration. A patient’s psychological state must also be considered and we assess our patients on an individual basis to see if we can support them with anxiety, depression and many more complex psychological needs. We are very lucky at the Christie to have the support of an excellent Psycho-Oncology team, Complementary Therapy team and Charlotte Finchett who works as a health promotion advisor to coordinate this support. A number of our patients have problems with substance addiction including drugs, alcohol and nicotine and we need to consider how they will cope with treatment and how we can best support them with their addiction.

A multidisciplinary approach

The complexities of head and neck cancers and the treatments available produce the question that even though we can treat a patient, is it always appropriate? The multidisciplinary team always weighs out the risks and benefits of treatments ensuring these are fully explained to patients giving them the opportunity to make an informed decision on their future and ensure they achieve a good quality of life. The patient’s safety is paramount and anything which may affect this must be considered and dealt with appropriately. The Clinical Nurse Specialists together with the Complex Discharge and Safeguarding teams enable to us to ensure that patients are offered the appropriate care and support to ensure they can cope with the consequences of their cancer and treatments.

Further information

Together patients, their families and all healthcare professionals have to work together to create the best individual support to get through treatment and beyond with the best quality of life possible.  The head and neck nurse specialist team at the Christie have organised a study day to present and discuss some of the ethical and moral issues considered when treatment decisions are being made in head and neck cancer. The above topics and more will be presented by various members of the multi-disciplinary team with the chance to get involved in interactive sessions and case based discussions. We welcome those involved in the care of head and neck oncology patients to attend on 4th Oct. 


Last updated: October 2019