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This information leaflet has been written for people who will be having radiotherapy or chemo-radiotherapy to the head and neck region.
It means preparing for treatment by improving your:
It can help you to:
Radiotherapy or chemo-radiotherapy to the head and neck region is likely to affect how well you are able to eat. It is important that you prepare for treatment by using the next few weeks to make sure your body is as well-nourished as it can be.
By keeping well-nourished you will be able to:
There are no special foods that you should eat and no foods that you need to avoid. Have a good, balanced diet based on foods you enjoy and try to follow the guidelines below:
If you are finding it difficult to maintain your weight, if you have a reduced appetite, if you have any problems with swallowing or you have special dietary issues, please contact your dietitian on the number at the end of this leaflet for more individual advice.
It is useful to prepare for treatment by stocking your freezer and store cupboard with easy to eat and ready prepared meals and snacks. For instance you could freeze portions of softer, easier to chew foods like shepherd’s pie, casseroles and stews; ice cream is useful to have in the freezer as it can be soothing if your mouth becomes sore. Make sure you have a good supply of easy to eat tinned/ premade foods in your store cupboard, e.g. custard and rice pudding, soups (choose ‘cream of’ soups and lentil or meat based soups if possible), ready brek or Weetabix which can be soaked in warm milk to soften, evaporated and condensed milk, tinned meats and tuna fish etc.
If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can disrupt your blood glucose levels. You may need to monitor your blood glucose more often and you may need adjustments to any diabetes medication you take. To prepare for treatment, please contact your diabetes nurse or GP to discuss the best way to manage your diabetes during treatment.
It is important that you prepare for treatment by using the next few weeks to make sure you are as physically fit as possible. This doesn’t mean you need to train for a marathon, any improvements to your current level of fitness will help. By taking control and improving your fitness you will be able to:
There is specialist support available to you free of charge, to help you improve your fitness and we encourage everyone, no matter what your current level of fitness, to take advantage of this service:
The Brighter Outlook programme offers free physical activity to anyone living in Sussex who has been diagnosed with cancer, to help you get more active and improve your health before, during and after treatment. They offer group-based physical activity classes via Zoom or if you prefer one-to-one support, they will design a programme of exercises for you to complete independently, taking into account your current level of fitness and exercise preferences. Ask your specialist nurse for a referral to Brighter Outlook, or if you prefer you can self-refer using the form on their website: https://www.albioninthecommunity.org.uk/brighter-outlook
All types of physical activity will help you improve or maintain your fitness and your strength. Here are some more suggestions:-
To improve your muscle strength it is important to combine physical activity with good nutrition. Read the nutrition information we have provided and also consider having a protein based snack soon after an activity session, this could be something like peanut butter or cheese and biscuits, or a glass of milk or high-protein yoghurt.
It is normal for people to experience many different emotions when they are given their diagnosis and learn about their treatment plan, and these can be difficult to cope with. It is common to feel anxious and afraid. Partners, family and friends may also have some of the same feelings. You may also have practical concerns, eg about your finances while you are having treatment.
It often helps to talk to someone and support is available to help you cope with your feelings and practical concerns, and prepare psychologically for treatment. Your Clinical Nurse Specialist or Macmillan support worker will telephone to check in with you and offer support. They can provide emotional support and can refer you for specialist counselling if needed. The nurse or support worker will make sure you have their contact details so you can get in touch with the team at any time.
Their contact details are: Brighton and surrounding areas: 01273 696966 Extension 67435.
West Sussex: 01903 205111 Extension 86895.
East Sussex: 0300 131 4500 Extension 136218.
The Macmillan Horizon Centre has a wide range of wellbeing and support services which all our patients can access. We encourage you to complete the Macmillan registration form in this pack, pop in to the Horizon centre reception, or call them on 01273 468770 to find out more about what is on offer.
You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 7 days a week, 8am-8pm. They offer emotional support and practical information, e.g. about welfare rights and Macmillan grants.
The Brighton & Hove Wellbeing Service have a range of self-help resources which you can access on their website: https://www.brightonandhovewellbeing.org/resources-adults.
If you would like to chat to someone who has gone through a similar experience, The Brighton Head and Neck Phone Buddies are volunteers who have gone through a head and neck cancer themselves, or have cared for a loved one. They know first-hand how hard it can be to cope emotionally, physically and practically. A Buddy is usually present at Wednesday clinic, or they can be contacted through the Horizon Centre, as above.
There are two support groups specifically for people with head and neck cancer:
The Swallows is a national support group for patients, carers and family members. It has monthly meetings, a 24 hr helpline and also offers free care packs. You can have a look at their website www.theswallows.org.uk or call their 24/7 support line on 07504 725059.
Thancs are a local support group based in Brighton. They offer friendly and informal meet ups for patients, their families and carers.
The Head and Neck cancer forum 2020 is a free podcast available on your smartphone. It is recorded in Australia but they discuss topics relevant to the local community.
This information is intended for patients receiving care in Brighton & Hove or Haywards Heath.
The information in this leaflet is for guidance purposes only and is in no way intended to replace professional clinical advice by a qualified practitioner.
Publication Date: May 2022
Review Date: February 2025