The psychological impact of head and neck cancers

With ‘Things that give me anxiety’ trending today on Twitter, we thought it was important to delve into the psychological impact of head and neck cancers.

In partnership with patient groups The Swallows and the Mouth Cancer Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS),  has announced the results from a patient survey into the psychological impact of head and neck cancers. The research explored the long-term burden of treatment on head and neck cancer patients.

After undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer, which can include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, many patients report an ongoing impact on their day-to-day life.

A worrying 55 per cent of the 118 patients surveyed indicated they did not receive the right level of information in preparation for the complications encountered from treatment.

There are around 11,900 new head and neck cancer cases in the UK every year and the incidence of head and neck cancer has increased by 32 per cent since the early 1990s.

Following treatment, the survey showed 56 per cent of patients had problems with simple things like swallowing, often experiencing severe pain, while two-thirds of patients experienced changes in their voice or speech.

The survey also showed self-reported change from pre-to post- treatment in vital areas including a drop in the ability to communicate (37 per cent), memory loss (21 per cent), and trouble sleeping (20 per cent).

As well as physical symptoms, treatment can have severe implications on mental health too, more than half of patients reported feelings of anxiety before treatment, which only reduced to 48 per cent following treatment. However, emotional and psychological support was only offered to 46 per cent of patients.

A majority of patients did receive access to a clinical nurse specialist, however there was still 23 per cent of people who were not offered this service.

Clinical nurse specialists use their skills and expertise in cancer care to provide physical and emotional support, coordinate care services and inform and advise patients on clinical as well as practical issues, which have been shown to lead to more positive patient outcomes.

“These results show the impact treatment may have on head and neck cancer patients,” says said the Mouth Cancer Foundation’s clinical ambassador Mahesh Kumar.

“The continued problems and symptoms experienced by patients after treatment significantly impacts patients’ daily life. We also know physical disfigurement can increase social anxiety. It is important that we raise the awareness of this and work together to provide solutions to improve and support patient outcomes.

“With the incidence of head and neck cancers increasing, it is vital we understand what we can do to help patients.

“We are so pleased to have worked in collaboration with BMS and the Mouth Cancer Foundation to help raise awareness of this disease and understand where patients might need more help to reduce the impact on their lives.

“We know head and neck cancers, and the associated complications, do not get a lot of attention so it’s crucial for awareness days such as World Head and Neck Cancer Day to be used to shine a light on the disease.”

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