If surgery is needed for cancer of the mouth, throat, or neck, the National Cancer Institute recommends asking your healthcare provider the following questions. The NYOG’s Head & Neck Surgery Team provided the following responses.
What can be expected after surgery?
Results and recovery time will vary according to the type of procedure and the patient’s unique medical circumstances. Patient expectations are discussed at NYOG in a detailed treatment plan prior to surgery. Every plan will address comprehensive issues such as tumor control and subsequent quality of life. Continued care and follow up treatment does not end after surgery. In many cases it is the beginning of a long-term need for care.
How will pain be treated?
Depending on the surgery, there may be more or minimal post-operative pain. We believe that short-term pain should be aggressively managed and that pain relief is an important part of your recovery. Pain is treated with various methods, usually intravenously, in the early pre-operative period. After that, pain is controlled by medication, taken either by mouth or injection. Your surgical team and the NYOG’s Pain Management Service team will help with pain management. Many new therapies have fewer side effects and are more specific to controlling surgical and cancer pain.
Will I have trouble eating?
This depends on the type of surgery employed. In many head and neck procedures, swallowing can be temporarily or permanently altered. We work closely with talented speech and swallowing therapists, who can provide therapy in and out of the hospital setting.
Will there be scarring?
Scarring can occur, as it is part of the normal healing process. However, it often does not have any impact on one’s health. If it does, treatment options may be needed.
Will there be other long-term effects or permanent physical changes?
This depends on the extent of the disease as well as type of surgery performed. Some procedures have no permanent changes while others have transient or long term effects.
If I need plastic surgery, how soon can that be done following my cancer surgery?
As part of the reconstruction from necessary surgical manipulation, micro-vascular reconstruction can minimize cosmetic and functional defects from surgery. In certain cases, plastic surgery may need to be delayed for three to six months in order to allow the body to properly heal.
Will I need speech therapy?
Follow-up therapy is dependant upon the nature of the surgery. Some patients do require rehabilitation to regain normal speech. NYOG has a board-certified Speech and Language Pathologist (SPL) at its offices for patients that require such assistance.
When can I resume my normal activities?
This varies on the extent and kind of surgery. In some cases this can be as short as days but in others it may take weeks, especially if radiation therapy is needed post-surgery. Dr. Krevitt will provide a normal range of expected recovery based on the amount of anticipated surgery and extent of disease.