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Postoperative Surveillance

After surgery and radiation, postoperative visits are imperative. These visits are frequent in the first two years after surgery, then less frequently. The patient is proclaimed cured if there is no evidence of recurrence five years after surgery.

Head and neck cancer should be interpreted as a serious wake-up call that the body can no longer defend itself against cancer-causing insults.

Patients who fail to change their lifestyle following throat cancer surgery unfortunately may find that lightning strikes twice. Those who have smoked to the point of cancer formation usually have a 40% chance of developing a second primary cancer in the head, neck, lung, esophagus or bladder if they continue their old habits. We all know of “people who have smoked forever and lived to a ripe old age,” but those people are far from typical. One out of six or seven smokers will develop cancer and the rest will acquire lung diseases varying in severity.

Patients who do make lifestyle changes still mustn’t let their guard down. Stopping smoking does decrease the risk of a second primary tumor, but not immediately, although the lungs do clean up fairly quickly. (Patients who stop smoking for only two days prior to surgery decrease their odds of lung problems during and after surgery.) Emphysema cannot be reversed, but the remaining lung tissue has a good chance of functioning better. In short, it’s always a good idea to stop smoking.

Also, it’s important to remember that some head and neck cancers aren’t caused by cigarettes.