Head and neck cancer patient information
Find out what to expect when you come to hospital for your appointment.
Before your appointment
You will receive your appointment within two weeks of referral and it is imperative that you attend. Please be aware that though this may require you to alter plans at the last minute, it is essential that we begin investigations and treatment if necessary as soon as possible.
We encourage you to bring a partner, relative, close friend or carer to your appointments, as you will need to discuss your condition, which could mean discussing good or bad news. This extra support is helpful as it is often difficult to recall all the information you have been given on your own.
Please wear comfortable loose-fitting clothes, as you may need to undress in order for some investigations or examinations to be performed.
Please also remember to check your appointment letter for anything specific you have been asked to take with you. In addition, it would be helpful if you could bring the following:
- Your full address and telephone number(s)
- Your appointment card and appointment letter
- Your GP’s name and address
- Money to pay for any prescriptions, or an exemption card
- A list of questions you may want to ask your consultant
- A list of your current medications.
During your appointment
When you arrive please use the self check-in kiosk, just outside the entrance to the ear nose and throat (ENT) clinic. During the check-in process please make sure your personal details are correct, if you have any problems please speak to the staff on the reception desk. The clinic can have significant waiting times due to the complexity of many of the cases.
Please note that we are a teaching hospital, so medical students may be present for some appointments. If you do not wish to have them in the room please let the nurse or doctor know and the students will be asked to step outside.
You will initially be seen by a doctor, but may have to see more than one staff member, and be asked to attend other departments within the hospital. The time you need to be with us will vary from patient to patient, but you may be required to be at the hospital for up to five hours.
During your appointment you will be examined and we will take a detailed history of your symptoms. The common examinations used in the ENT clinic are an examination of the inside of your mouth and back of throat, a nasendoscopy, and a feel (palpation) of the neck. If necessary a biopsy (small sample) of any concerning areas may be taken.
A nasendoscopy may be required to assess your voice or swallowing. It is a procedure that allows a doctor to see your throat. It is usually done at your outpatient appointment. The doctor passes a small tube, called a nasendoscope, into your nostril and passes it gently backwards until it is sitting just above your voice box. This should not be painful. The nasendoscopy allows your doctor to see the inside of your throat and what happens when you speak and swallow.
Some people have reported a feeling of light-headedness, nosebleeds, coughing and spasm of the vocal cords. These occur in less than one out of 100 people. Any effects are temporary and should not last more than a minute or two. We want to involve you in all the decisions about your care and treatment. We will ask for your permission to go ahead with the nasendoscopy. If there is anything you do not understand or you need more time to think about it, please tell the staff caring for you. Remember, it is your decision. You can change your mind at any time, even if you have already agreed to have the procedure. Let staff know immediately if you change your mind. Your wishes will be respected at all times.
It may be necessary to take a biopsy of the mouth or other areas in clinic. A small injection of local anaesthetic will be made at the site to numb the area. A few minutes later a small tissue sample will be taken with forceps or a scalpel. There may be a small amount of bleeding afterwards which settles after a few minutes with pressure from a swab. Painkillers and mouthwashes may be given if required. The results will take at least one week to be ready.
After your appointment
You will either have a follow-up appointment arranged, be discharged or have an admission arranged.
It is likely that you will be sent for scans including CT or MRI, which are usually carried out within two weeks of the appointment. You may also be listed for a biopsy procedure where we take a small sample of tissue under general anaesthetic and send it to the laboratory for testing. Biopsies will usually happen one to two weeks after being seen in the clinic, after any scan is requested.
As part of the Macmillan Cancer Support and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust partnership, we’ve introduced the Macmillan cancer navigators service.
Macmillan navigators offer a single phone contact for all cancer patients. They can help with booking appointments, accessing local support services and finding answers to any questions. Please call the Macmillan navigators team with any questions you have about your cancer care. Learn more about Macmillan navigators.
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