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What to Expect After Surgery for Head and Neck Cancer

The side effects of surgery for head and neck cancer depend on the size of the tumor and the type of surgery performed. Here are some things you can expect after surgery:

  • Temporary pain in the area of the operation. You may be uncomfortable for a few days after surgery, but pain can be controlled with medicine. You should discuss pain relief with the doctor or nurse.

  • You may feel tired or weak and your face may be swollen for a while. The length of time it takes to recover from an operation is different for each person.

  • You may have trouble chewing, swallowing, or talking. These problems may be temporary or permanent. 

  • If the surgery was extensive, you may have a change in how you look. Talk with your doctor about reconstruction and your rehabilitation plan.

  • You may experience hearing loss and decreased thyroid hormone levels, especially after a total laryngectomy (the removal of the larynx) and/or radiation therapy.

  • Breathing may also be affected by surgery. Ask your doctors what to expect after surgery.

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Moloney Johns, Amanda, PA-C, MPAS, BBA
Last Review Date: 11/24/2013
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.