It helps to learn more about the side effects from your treatment(s) before you begin, so you will know what to expect. When you know more, you can work with your health care team to manage your quality of life during and after treatment.
There are effective and readily available medications to address traditional side effects from cancer treatment (such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation and mouth sores.) Also, as newer 'targeted therapies' become available, they tend to leave people with fewer traditional side effects.
Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently to treatment and experiences side effects differently. There are coping mechanisms and strategies that can help.
Side Effects from Oropharyngeal Treatments
The most common side effects of any neck dissection are numbness of the ear, weakness when raising the arm above the head, and weakness of the lower lip. These side effects are caused by injury during the operation to certain nerves that supply these areas.
After a selective neck dissection, weakness of the arm and lower lip usually go away after a few months. But if either nerve is removed as part of a radical neck dissection or because of involvement with tumor, the weakness will be permanent.
Cancers of the head and neck are treated by operations that remove part of the facial bone structure. The changes are visible, so they can be devastating. Recent advances in facial prostheses are now giving patients the ability to have a more normal look and also improving vocal clarity (another side effect of surgical treatments.)
Side effects of external radiation therapy may include skin changes, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, painful sores in the mouth and throat and dry mouth or thick saliva. Most side effects of radiation are temporary, but some rare serious side effects can be permanent. In some cases, radiation to the chest can also cause lung damage, which may lead to problems breathing and shortness of breath.
Chemotherapy has different side effects depending on the type and dose of drugs given and the length of time they are taken. These side effects can include hair loss, mouth sores, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, increased chance of infections (due to low white blood cell counts), easy bruising or bleeding (due to low blood platelet counts) and fatigue (due to low red blood cell counts.)