Head and Neck Cancer Patients need timely Rehabilitation

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Head and neck cancers can be very unforgiving, with the cure sometimes more dreadful than the disease itself. This is as a result of the severe physical, functional and emotional, not to forget financial, hardship it brings to patients, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Often, due to a lack of awareness amongst both the medical fraternity and patients alike, these patients feel powerless to address these disabilities. They ‘survive’ the disease, but are unable to cope with the aftermath of cancer care. Daily ‘taken for granted’ actions, like speaking, swallowing, chewing and drinking, suddenly become an ordeal.It affects people in the most productive age. Hence, the healthcare system needs to ensure that such patients are rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.Most cancer patients feel that, once they survive cancer, their treatment is complete. They are not aware that reconstruction and rehab are possible. This is probably due to a lack of awareness about the scope of prosthetics and rehabilitation amongst the public and medical profession alike. Patients accept physical facial defects and lack of optimal function with a fatalistic attitude. While survival is considered a luxury by most patients, little do they know that they can enjoy an optimal quality of life post-cancer treatment if they get rehabilitated on time.Prevention, early diagnosis and rehabilitation have so far been playing second fiddle to ‘cure’. Early diagnosis leads to smaller defects during surgery, improving survival rate and also ensuring a successful prosthetic reconstruction and rehabilitation. Cancer care needs to be holistic and patient-centric, addressing every aspect of each patient’s problems. Recognising this importance, the World Health Organization (WHO) integrated rehabilitation into the continuum of care in February 2017.The goal of cancer care was always cure. In the past, cure ended with survival; today cure does not end till the patient is completely rehabilitated. It is the need of the hour to raise awareness on the crucial role played by rehabilitation in the cancer care continuum.

It is important to make more people aware of these facts and to trigger national action enhancing reintegration of this  'forgotten patient' back into society!