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Oral Cancer (cont.)

What happens after treatment for oral cancer?

Follow-up care after treatment for oral cancer is important. Even when the cancer seems to have been completely removed or destroyed, the disease sometimes returns because undetected cancer cells remained in the body after treatment. The doctor monitors your recovery and checks for recurrence of cancer. Checkups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted. Your doctor will probably encourage you to inspect your mouth regularly and continue to have exams when you visit your dentist. It is important to report any changes in your mouth right away.

Checkups include exams of the mouth, throat, and neck. From time to time, your doctor may do a complete physical exam, order blood tests, and take x-rays.

People who have had oral cancer have a chance of developing a new cancer in the mouth, throat, or other areas of the head and neck. This is especially true for those who use tobacco or who drink alcohol heavily. Doctors strongly urge their patients to STOP using tobacco and drinking to cut down the risk of a new cancer and other health problems.

The NCI has prepared a booklet for people who have completed their treatment to help answer questions about follow-up care and other concerns. Facing Forward Series: Life After Cancer Treatment provides tips for making the best use of medical visits. It describes how to talk to your health care team about creating a plan of action for recovery and future health.

What does the future hold for patients with oral cancer?

Living with a serious disease such as oral cancer is not easy. You may worry about caring for your family, keeping your job, or continuing daily activities. You may have concerns about treatments and managing side effects, hospital stays, and medical bills. Doctors, nurses, and other members of the health care team can answer your questions about treatment, working, or other activities. Meeting with a social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can be helpful if you want to talk about your feelings or discuss your concerns. Often, a social worker can suggest resources for financial aid, transportation, home care, or emotional support.

Support groups also can help. In these groups, patients or their family members meet with other patients or their families to share what they have learned about coping with the disease and the effects of treatment. Groups may offer support in person, over the telephone, or on the Internet. You may want to talk with a member of your health care team about finding a support group. The NCI's fact sheets "Cancer Support Groups: Questions and Answers" and "National Organizations That Offer Services to People With Cancer and Their Families" tell how to find a support group. See "National Cancer Institute Information Resources" for ordering information.

The Cancer Information Service can provide information to help patients and their families locate programs, services, and publications.

The promise of cancer research

Doctors all over the country are conducting many types of clinical trials. These are research studies in which people volunteer to take part. In clinical trials, doctors are testing new ways to treat oral cancer. Research has already led to advances, and researchers continue to search for more effective approaches.

People who join clinical trials may be among the first to benefit if a new approach is shown to be effective. And if participants do not benefit directly, they still make an important contribution to medical science by helping doctors learn more about the disease and how to control it. Although clinical trials may pose some risks, researchers do all they can to protect their patients.

Researchers are testing anticancer drugs and combinations of drugs. They are studying radiation therapy combined with drugs and other treatments. They also are testing drugs that prevent or reduce the side effects of radiation therapy.

If you are interested in learning more about joining a clinical trial, you may want to talk with your doctor. You may want to read Taking Part in Clinical Trials: What Cancer Patients Need To Know. The NCI also offers an easy-to-read brochure called If You Have Cancer...What You Should Know About Clinical Trials. These NCI publications describe how research studies are carried out and explain their possible benefits and risks.

NCI's Web site includes a section on clinical trials at with general information about clinical trials and detailed information about specific studies. The Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER or at LiveHelp at can answer questions and provide information about clinical trials. Another source of information about clinical trials is


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