Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Head and Neck Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What steps should newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients take following a diagnosis? Dr. Jessica Geiger shares advice to help patients play an active role in their care.

Dr. Jessica Geiger is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Geiger

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Katherine Banwell:

What three key pieces of advice would you have for a patient who’s just been diagnosed with head and neck cancer?  

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

Well, first, obviously, you have to see an oncologist you have trust and faith in. 

And whether that oncologist is a surgical oncologist which for this disease would be a head and neck cancer specialist, an ENT, or a head and neck surgeon. So, just make sure that you are comfortable with your team, because it can be a very long process in terms of treatment as well as recovery and ongoing surveillance. That’s number one. I think number two is seek out clinical trials if you have the opportunity to do that. This is a disease that’s not rare, but it’s not as common as breast cancer or colon cancer or prostate cancer. You could go to almost any general practicing medical oncology office, and they may or may not have very many head and neck cancer patients at a given time, because it’s much rarer compared to the other more common adult cancers. 

So, if you have the opportunity to seek out a clinical trial, I think that is great because we don’t have a lot of different types of therapies like you see with other cancers. 

Katherine Banwell:


Dr. Jessica Geiger:

And then number three, and I can’t stress this enough, even early on in your head and neck cancer journey, again, whether it’s a very early-stage cancer or later-stage cancer. I think getting involved with the appropriate support specialties, meaning speech and language pathology, dental care, occupational therapy.  We couldn’t do what we do without some of these support specialties. And especially speech and language pathology for swallowing, it can’t be stressed enough that early intervention can be really meaningful and really impactful on function after head and neck cancer treatment.  

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hm.  Dr. Geiger, what is your advice to patients who may feel like they’re hurting feelings by seeking a specialist or even a second opinion?  

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

So, first of all, I know it’s easier said than done, you shouldn’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. At the end of the day, you need to be in charge of your health. And you need to be an advocate for yourself or an advocate to your family members who may be going through this. So, I think you need to do what is best for you and what you feel most comfortable about. And if that is seeking an opinion elsewhere, I think if your provider – you’re asking for a second opinion gets their feelings hurt or is a bit offended. I would consider that to be a pretty big red flag. I have patients all the time who may ask me for a second opinion, or they want to go to a different institution for an opinion to see what else is out there. And sometimes I even offer to reach out to different contacts that I know at different other institutions if there’s something that I think may be better than what I can offer them with what we have. 

Especially when it comes to clinical trials. So, I would just try to empower the patients to – this is your life. This is your health. And you can’t worry about what us in the medical profession are going to worry about. For most of us, I would say there’s a lot of patients. We want to do what is best for each and every one of them. And if it’s not with us, then please let me help you find someone who is better for you.