Psychological Impacts

This page is based upon a presentation given by Dr Uttam Shiralker FRCS MRPSych to delegates at a HANCUK sponsored course in July 2018. The presentation can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.

Head and Neck Cancer is the most psychologically traumatic cancer

The psychological impact of Head and Neck Cancer is an important consideration in the diagnosis, treatment and recovery of a patient.

There are common experiences following diagnosis:
  • shock;
  • denial;
  • anger;
  • blame;
  • loss;
  • fear; and
  • uncertainty.

More anxious patients suffer a higher impact of the disease and often any physical unrelated symptom will trigger anxiety. The anxiety levels of a patient will inevitably correlate with the anxiety of their carer(s).

Depression is more common amongst Head and Neck Cancer patients than any other cancers and can occur at anytime during the course of the illness.

Coping mechanisms vary from patient to patient but may include continued use of alcohol and/or smoking which will affect the clinical outcomes and quality of life of the patient. The patients coping mechanisms will often impact on the psychological response from the caregiver(s).

In many cases, the effects of the disease and treatment cannot be concealed leaving patients with visible disfigurement and a negative body image. This can lead to distress, social isolation, stigma, intimacy issues and untoward behaviour from others.

Following successful treatment, a patient can experience post traumatic growth which will result in a positive transformation leading to an enhanced perception of themselves and philosophy of life in general, as well as improved relationships and awareness of their general health.

Resilience levels increase as the treatments and recovery proceed, starting with survival, moving onto adaptation, followed by recovery and growth.

To improve a patient's recovery, psychological intervention in the form of peer or social support, psychoeducation and professional input using counselling, psychotherapy and medication, coupled with self help will all help towards a successful outcome.


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Download: Psychological factors in Head & Neck Cancer

A presentation given by Dr Uttam Shiralkar in July 2018

Making Meals Make Sense - A cookbook and guide for people following Head and Neck Cancer treatment