Radiation Therapy for Head and Neck Cancer
Treatment for Head and Neck Cancers
Treatment for head and neck cancers will depend on several factors, including the type of cancer, its size and stage, its location and the patient’s overall health. Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the key treatments for head and neck cancers. For many head and neck cancers, combining two or three types of treatment may be most effective, which is why it is important to talk to several cancer specialists, including a surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist. Organ preservation is a common goal when treating head and neck cancer. An organ preservation approach uses radiation and sometimes chemotherapy to shrink or completely eliminate the tumor. This can allow some patients to avoid surgery.
Dental Care During Treatment
It is very important to care for a patient to care for his/her teeth during and after treatment for head and neck cancer, as radiation therapy to this area may increase the chances of mouth infections and tooth decay.
The following recommendations can help patients prevent dental complications:
- See a dentist before starting radiation.
- Attend follow up visits with a dentist at regular intervals.
- Brush teeth carefully to prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and jaw infections.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste without abrasives.
- Floss teeth daily.
- Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol.
Possible Side Effects
Side effects of radiation therapy are limited to the area that is receiving treatment. Side effects associated with the treatment of head and neck cancer may include redness of the skin, sore mouth and throat, dry mouth, thick phlegm, alteration of taste, pain on swallowing, and hair loss on the head, neck and face. It is relatively common for a patient to feel fatigued or tired during treatment. A patient should notify your treatment team if he/she is having trouble maintaining nutrition, as they may offer suggestions to increase caloric intake and keep the patient comfortable. The way foods taste and the amount of saliva produced should improve after treatment ends.
If at any time a patient feels discomfort, he/she should tell the treatment team. The doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help him/her feel better.