Mouth Cancer Action Month

It can be very difficult coping with a diagnosis of mouth cancer, both practically and emotionally.

At first, you are likely to feel very upset, frightened and confused. You may also feel that things are out of your control. It is very important to get the right information and support to help you along the process.

The recovery period can be a difficult time for some mouth cancer patients. After treatment, patients may have problems with breathing, swallowing, drinking and eating. Speech may also be affected, and occasionally even lost. Facial disfigurement can also occur.

This can lead to other problems such as nutritional deficiency, and depression. Difficulties in communication, low self-esteem, social isolation and the impact on relationships can cause as much distress as the cancer itself.

Rehabilitation is therefore a very important part of the treatment. The healthcare team will make sure that a patient is able to access services that may include:

  • Reconstructive or plastic surgery.

  • Speech therapy.

  • Dietary counselling.

  • Emotional support.

Patients who have had mouth cancer must be closely monitored to make sure that the cancer does not return. Survival rates have improved over the last 20 years and if cancer is caught early it can be cured. With the right care, cancer patients can have a good quality of life.

Here are some of the physical and emotional effects of mouth cancer and its treatments.

Challenges eating after mouth cancer

Radiotherapy can affect your taste buds and can cause a dry mouth, called xerostomia. It may last for several months, but some people may find that the dryness is permanent, which may make eating and talking uncomfortable.

Mouth cancer treatment can leave your throat and jaw feeling very sore and you will almost certainly have difficulty swallowing and chewing for a while. This can be very hard to cope with at first but it’s important to not let it get you down. Your doctor can give you strong painkillers or prescribe you a protective coating gel which helps to protect your mouth.

It is important that even if you are not eating regularly, that you continue to keep your mouth and teeth clean. This will help to stop infection developing and will help you to feel better.

Physical changes after mouth cancer

Surgery that involves the jaw, tongue, mouth, lips and throat may change the way you look.  But modern surgical techniques and reconstructive surgery are usually very good. They tend not to cause much scarring, even with very big operations.

How you look is an important part of how you feel about yourself (your self-esteem). It can be very hard to accept sudden changes in your looks that you are not happy with.

It is usual for people who have had surgery to their face to feel very angry, confused and upset for some time afterwards. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you. You may also worry about being physically attractive to your partner.

It is natural to worry about these things. But it is important to remember that the people close to you will not think of you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so let them know how you are feeling. Talking to them can help you to feel more supported and less isolated.

Relationships after mouth cancer

Being diagnosed with mouth cancer and having treatment will almost certainly affect how you feel about sex and intimacy. You may not feel like having sex or being intimate at a time when you’re dealing with mouth cancer, or you may find that sex helps you feel more normal during an uncertain time. How mouth cancer affects you sexually will be unique to you.

Eye contact and touching are very powerful ways of showing your feelings. A caring and loving partner can help to ease your concerns.

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