Larynx Cancer (cont.)
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It's an option for people with any stage of laryngeal cancer. People with small tumors may choose radiation therapy instead of surgery. It may also be used after surgery to destroy cancer cells that may remain in the area.
The radiation comes from a large machine outside the body. You may go to the hospital or clinic once or twice a day, generally 5 days a week for several weeks. Each treatment takes only a few minutes.
Radiation therapy aimed at the neck may cause side effects:
- Sore throat and difficulty swallowing: Your throat may become sore, or you may feel like there's a lump in your throat. It may be hard for you to swallow.
- Changes in your voice: Your voice may become hoarse or weak during radiation therapy. Your larynx may swell, causing voice changes. Your doctor may suggest medicine to reduce the swelling.
- Skin changes in the neck area: The skin on your neck may become red or dry. Good skin care is important. It's helpful to expose your neck to air while also protecting it from the sun. Also, avoid wearing clothes that rub your neck, and don't shave the area. You should not use lotions or creams on your neck without your doctor's advice. These skin changes usually go away when treatment ends.
- Changes in the thyroid: Radiation therapy can harm your thyroid (an organ in your neck beneath the voice box). If your thyroid doesn't make enough thyroid hormone, you may feel tired, gain weight, feel cold, and have dry skin and hair. Your doctor can check the level of thyroid hormone with a blood test. If the level is low, you may need to take thyroid hormone pills.
- Fatigue: You may become very tired, especially in the later weeks of radiation therapy. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise people to stay as active as they can.
- Weight loss: You may lose weight if you have eating problems from a sore throat and trouble swallowing. Some people may need a temporary feeding tube.
Some side effects go away after radiation therapy ends, but others last a long time. Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be upsetting, your doctor can usually treat or control them. It helps to report any problems that you are having so that your doctor can work with you to relieve them.
You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having radiation therapy:
- What is the goal of this treatment?
- When will the treatments begin? When will they end?
- What are the risks and side effects of this treatment? What can I do about them?
- How will I feel during therapy? What can I do to take care of myself?
- Are there any long-term effects?
- If the tumor grows back after radiation therapy, will surgery be an option?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014
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