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The Path to Remission

If a patient experiences complete remission, the primary symptoms associated with head and neck cancer should disappear or at least be markedly improved; there should be no evidence of the primary tumor on physical exam and CT or MRI scans should also have no evidence of disease at the site of the tumor or in other areas of the body.

Although you may now be in remission, it is critical that you continue to be vigilant to find out if the cancer returns or if a secondary cancer grows. There is a higher probability of cancer returning (recurrence) or a new cancer occurring in the first few years.

Although this may be stressful and cause anxiety for you, it is best to identify cancer at an early stage. For example, among patients who are diagnosed with stage I head and neck cancer, 90 percent are likely to be cured, whereas among patients who are diagnosed at stage II head and neck cancer, only 70 percent are likely to be cured.

Therefore, you will need to undergo periodic follow-up physicals, scans and other tests according to a schedule. The specific schedule will depend on the specific type of cancer you had, in addition to the specific course of treatment you received. The clinicians will carefully assess you to confirm that the cancer has not returned and that you still have no evidence of disease.

It was an emotional rollercoaster. Your whole life is relying on one test result to come back to say, “We don’t see any more signs of cancer. We think we got it all.” Jason S. (tonsil cancer survivor)