Rehabilitation and Support Options in Head and Neck Cancer

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Topics include: Treatments

Do I need head and neck specialists for my cancer? Patient Power Founder and Host, Andrew Schorr, discusses this question with Dr. Faye Johnson, Head and Neck Oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Although this question may seem obvious, Dr. Johnson stresses the importance of building a team that are head and neck oncology experts for the best possible rehabilitation and support.  This team should include oncology, radiology, surgery, pathology, audiologists and/or speech therapy. 

This content was sponsored, in part, by a pharmaceutical company.

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Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power.  I'm Andrew Schorr.  Well, we all know head and neck cancer treatment can be difficult.  Sometimes there is aggressive surgery.  Where are we now with helping you get back to a full life, as full a life as possible?  

Joining us now is a leading medical oncologist in the field.  That's Dr. Faye Johnson.  She's at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  Dr. Johnson, thank you for being with us. 

Dr. Johnson:

Thank you for having me.  

Andrew Schorr:

Let's talk about the role of rehabilitation and support.  How can patients be sure they get what's best for them? 

Dr. Johnson:

So that's actually a very important question, because we know that although we cure half of our patients most of those patients, almost all of them, have long-term sequela from their treatment. And those can be problems with swallowing, problems with speaking, dry mouth, problems with hearing and a number of other things. 

We have a very large group that is dedicated to treating those side effects in the long?term, and so I would encourage patients to again consult their treatment team because we work very closely with the audiologists, the speech therapists, and so forth. And they have very specialized treatment programs to help with these side effects. 

Andrew Schorr:

What message of hope would you like to share with patients and family members who are watching who are coping right now as best they can with head and neck cancer? 

Dr. Johnson:

So I guess first I would say that, you know, diagnosis with any cancer is really scary.  Head and neck cancer is particularly scary because of the—I think because of the fact that we're really defined as people by—by our face and speaking. And socially we, you know, we meet up by eating, and so head and neck cancer is particularly scary, because it affects all of these functions. 

One thing I would say is that head and neck cancer is best treated by experts.  And I know that sounds a bit silly.  Of course, you want your cancer treated by experts. But for head and neck in particular this is an issue because of the complexity of the anatomy.  Also, head and neck cancer is usually treated by all three oncology disciplines, medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgery, and so you need a well?oiled group that works together well that can coordinate patient care. 

We also know that if you do something over and over again, you do it better.  And again this sounds a bit silly.  Of course, that's true, but we actually have very good data that's been published that show, for example, that radiation oncologists who treat many, many cases of head and neck cancer actually have much better outcomes. And so that's why I think it's very important for patients with head and neck cancer to be treated by a team with a lot of experience and a lot of depth of experience. 

So I've talked about the oncologists who are important in that team but also the support staff as well, so the speech therapists, the audiologists and all of the other team members who aren't oncologists are also very important.  The other members of the team are the doctors that the patients don't see so the pathologists and the radiologists most notably.  Some of the cancers we treat are really rare, and so it's very important to have expert pathologists who have seen cases of a cancer that occurs only a dozen times a year in the world. 

The radiologists who read our films are also very important, because the films are complex, and their experience really adds to the care of our patients. 

Andrew Schorr:

So it seems like the critical message here is make sure you connect with an expert in the field and make sure you draw on the services that are available for rehabilitation and support, so you can go back to as full a life as possible.  Dr. Faye Johnson from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, thanks for joining us on Patient Power. 

Dr. Johnson:

Thank you.  Thank you for having me. 

Andrew Schorr:

I'm Andrew Schorr.  Be sure to be signed up for alerts on our website, so you'll always know whenever we post something new.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.  

Hello and welcome to Patient Power. I'm Andrew Schorr. Well, we all know head and neck cancer treatment can be difficult.  Sometimes there is aggressive surgery.  Where are we now with helping you get back to a full life, as full a life as possible?

Joining us now is a leading medical oncologist in the field.  That's Dr. Faye Johnson.  She's at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  Dr. Johnson, thank you for being with us.  

Dr. Johnson:

Thank you for having me.

Andrew Schorr:

Let's talk about the role of rehabilitation and support.  How can patients be sure they get what's best for them?  

Dr. Johnson:

So that's actually a very important question, because we know that although we cure half of our patients most of those patients, almost all of them, have long?term sequela from their treatment. And those can be problems with swallowing, problems with speaking, dry mouth, problems with hearing and a number of other things.

We have a very large group that is dedicated to treating those side effects in the long term, and so I would encourage patients to again consult their treatment team because we work very closely with the audiologists, the speech therapists, and so forth. And they have very specialized treatment programs to help with these side effects. 

Andrew Schorr:

What message of hope would you like to share with patients and family members who are watching who are coping right now as best they can with head and neck cancer?  

Dr. Johnson:

So I guess first I would say that, you know, diagnosis with any cancer is really scary.  Head and neck cancer is particularly scary because of the—I think because of the fact that we're really defined as people by—by our face and speaking. And socially we, you know, we meet up by eating, and so head and neck cancer is particularly scary, because it affects all of these functions.

One thing I would say is that head and neck cancer is best treated by experts.  And I know that sounds a bit silly.  Of course, you want your cancer treated by experts. But for head and neck in particular this is an issue because of the complexity of the anatomy. Also, head and neck cancer is usually treated by all three oncology disciplines, medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgery, and so you need a well?oiled group that works together well that can coordinate patient care. 

We also know that if you do something over and over again, you do it better.  And again this sounds a bit silly.  Of course, that's true, but we actually have very good data that's been published that show, for example, that radiation oncologists who treat many, many cases of head and neck cancer actually have much better outcomes. And so that's why I think it's very important for patients with head and neck cancer to be treated by a team with a lot of experience and a lot of depth of experience.

So I've talked about the oncologists who are important in that team but also the support staff as well, so the speech therapists, the audiologists and all of the other team members who aren't oncologists are also very important.  The other members of the team are the doctors that the patients don't see so the pathologists and the radiologists most notably.  Some of the cancers we treat are really rare, and so it's very important to have expert pathologists who have seen cases of a cancer that occurs only a dozen times a year in the world. 

The radiologists who read our films are also very important, because the films are complex, and their experience really adds to the care of our patients. 

Andrew Schorr:

So it seems like the critical message here is make sure you connect with an expert in the field and make sure you draw on the services that are available for rehabilitation and support, so you can go back to as full a life as possible.  Dr. Faye Johnson from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, thanks for joining us on Patient Power.  

Dr. Johnson:

Thank you.  Thank you for having me. 

Andrew Schorr:

I'm Andrew Schorr. Be sure to be signed up for alerts on our website, so you'll always know whenever we post something new. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on October 4, 2016