Effects of Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer

At Siteman, we understand that treating cancer is not our only job. We recognize that surgical procedures, medications, and other therapies often create challenges for patients, and we work hard to help them cope with side effects both during and after the treatment process. Your oncologist’s office should have a fact sheet on the usual side effects of your specific type of treatment and what can be done to counteract them.

What might I experience while going through head and neck cancer treatment?

Even before beginning treatment, many head and neck cancer patients are already struggling with symptoms caused by the tumor. These can include pain and difficulty talking and swallowing. Our goal is to alleviate these symptoms and restore you to a good quality of life.

Once treatment begins, many cancer patients experience strong fatigue. It’s a common side effect of chemotherapy, and one of the reasons chemotherapy sessions are spaced over  a period of weeks to give patients time to recuperate. Fatigue is often worsened by insomnia or other sleep disorders, which are common in cancer patients due to anxiety, pain, or medications.

Other chemotherapy side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting: Siteman has considerable experience managing these so
  • cancer therapy can continue and you can live your normal life.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is
  • caused by damage to the nerves that control the sensation of our hands and feet,
  • leading to numbness, tingling and pain.
  • Low blood counts: Many chemotherapy drugs can cause red and white blood cells to be low, resulting in a high risk for infections and anemia.

Head and neck cancer patients may also struggle with side effects caused by surgical procedures unique to their cancer type or subtype. Patients who undergo a total thyroidectomy, or removal of the thyroid gland, for instance, will experience symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle aches, thinning hair, depression, or impaired memory. These symptoms can be treated with a synthetic thyroid hormone.

In addition, some patients may face additional challenges swallowing and eating following the removal of a tumor. We will be proactive in addressing any special nutritional needs. Your care team will provide referrals to therapists and dieticians who can help you swallow again and plan meals that will work for you.




Cardio-oncology is a new medical discipline focused on treating any associated heart conditions in patients who have been treated for cancer, or are currently being treated for cancer. Specialized cardiologists can assess patients for the potential risk of developing certain heart conditions, especially if they are receiving particular types of cancer drugs, or following radiation treatment to the chest.