Long-Term Planning

Elliott_for_webThere are steps you can take before treatment to manage certain treatment-associated side effects. Some of these steps may minimize long-term complications caused by side effects. You should first meet with the cancer care team and discuss potential side effects and recommendations for managing them.

Prophylactic fluoride teeth treatment

If your loved one must undergo radiation therapy or chemoradiation therapy, he or she will be at higher risk for developing cavities, a problem attributed to decreased salivation. Prophylactic fluoride treatment is recommended to protect teeth during and after radiation treatment. Encourage your loved one to consider making a dental appointment for fluoride treatment if radiation is part of your loved one’s treatment plan.

Consult a registered nutritionist

Many treatment-associated side effects, such as severe mucositis or nausea and vomiting, can impair the desire to eat. In addition, some treatments can impair swallowing. Therefore, prior to the treatment, a nutritionist may provide recommendations specific to the treatment, such as foods to avoid and strategies to implement in case there are problems obtaining adequate nutrition. Your loved one’s nutritionist should provide strategies as to how to eat if certain side effects occur.

Consult a speech/swallowing therapist

People who receive radiation or chemoradiation therapy often develop complications in swallowing.

Researchers found that 25 percent of people with oropharyngeal cancer did not have the ability to functionally swallow three months after chemoradiation therapy. Moreover, 61 percent of the people who had chemoradiation therapy did not have a normal diet.

What steps can maximize the ability to swallow after radiation or chemoradiation therapy? If radiation is part of the treatment plan, the following recommendations can help:

  • The speech/swallowing therapist may do an evaluation of your loved one’s swallowing and speech before, during and after radiation or chemoradiation therapy.
  • Attend speech or swallowing therapy sessions if your therapist finds a deficit and recommends that you learn exercises.
  • Practice the recommended exercises. Researchers found that more patients maintained their ability to swallow if they did swallowing exercises before radiation therapy versus after radiation therapy.
  • Because decreased salivation will be a likely side effect, chew sugar-free gum, which can promote salivation and minimize the risk of developing cavities.
  • Depending on the recommendation of the cancer care team, patients may undergo periodic speech and swallowing evaluations post-therapy.

Begin an exercise program

Most patients will experience cancer-related fatigue during and after treatment, and for one in three people with cancer, the fatigue may be so severe they will not be able to participate in their usual activities. Exercise has been found to decrease cancer-related fatigue, so your loved one may want to consider starting an exercise program prior to the initiation of therapy.

Find a support group

People report experiencing stress and anxiety during the cancer journey. Moreover, one in three people experience moderate depression up to 10 years after receiving radiation therapy. Participating in patient support groups has been associated with improved quality of life. You and your loved one may want to consider identifying and participating in a support group.

Making those follow-up visits is very important. When your doctor tells you that you need a test, you go and get the test done.Debra R. (mucoepidermoid carcinoma of the palate survivor)