Living With Mouth Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer is always distressing both for the patient and those around them. You may initially become emotional and experience mood swings. These are normal reactions. It often helps to talk to others, especially those who have gone through similar experiences. The Mouth Cancer Foundation Community Forum may be of help as may Local Support Groups. Your hospital or GP practice can also put you in touch with professional counsellors.

The State will provide support. As a cancer patient you will:

  • Be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. This means your employer can’t discriminate against you because of your illness and must take reasonable steps to help you, for example by providing time off for medical treatments.
  • If you’ve got a job you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if you can’t work because of your illness or Employment and Support Allowance if you don’t work.
  • You can apply for a 5-year Exemption Certificate entitling you to free prescriptions for your cancer and other treatments.
  • Your carer may also be able to claim Carer’s Allowance.
  • Other benefits may be available if you’re on a low income or have children living at home.
  • Speak to your social worker to find out more.

Consequences of Treatment:

If your cancer was advanced you may need on going reconstructive surgery and further time in hospital.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy also have side-effects. The most common of these are:

  • Sore mouth. This can last for several weeks after treatment. You will be prescribed special mouthwashes and painkillers and can help yourself by avoiding hot drinks, spicy food and following the advice of your dental hygienist to keep your mouth as clean as possible
  • Dry Mouth. Your treatment may cause damage to your saliva glands so that you produce less saliva than usual. You may be prescribed saliva replacements and can help yourself by sipping water or sucking crushed ice and chewing sugar-free chewing gum to help stimulate the saliva glands
  • Loss of Taste. Your senses of taste and smell may reduce after treatment. This may lead to a loss of appetite but it is important you maintain good nutrition. Try to eat tasty food. After your mouth is no longer sore add strong flavours like garlic, lemon and spices to food to make it more attractive.
  • Swallowing. You may have difficulty swallowing after treatment for oral cancer. At first a feeding tube may be inserted so that you receive correct nutrition. Later you may be referred to a speech therapist who will analyse your problem and may refer you to a dietician who will recommend a suitable diet or a physiotherapist to help you carry out swallowing exercises
  • Chewing. Chewing may be difficult if you have lost teeth during treatment. The muscles that move the jaw may also become stiff. Your dentist will advise on the best methods of tooth replacement and you may be given exercises to improve the movement of the jaw
  • Infection. Chemotherapy can make you more prone to infection. Your care team will tell you what to look out for and what action to take if you think you have a problem. Radiotherapy can affect the bones of the jaw and increase the risk of infection after, for example, a tooth extraction. That is why a thorough dental examination and necessary treatment is provided before your cancer treatment
  • Speech. The treatments people receive for head and neck cancer can cause temporary or permanent changes to your voice. A speech and language therapist will help you to regain speech as much as possible. If you have had throat cancer and your voice box has been removed or damaged speech is still possible and you will be given information by your surgical team.
  • Emotional Issues. Treatment for cancer can have far-reaching consequences. Patients often feel extremely tired for weeks or months after treatment. Normal social activities like going out for a meal or chatting to friends can be compromised. Friends and family are also affected and their behaviour can change. It’s really important that if you’re having emotional issues you discuss these with your GP or other members of your care team so that you receive appropriate support.