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Potential Side Effects from Radiation for Laryngeal Cancer

Radiation affects both normal cells and cancer cells. This means it can cause side effects. What they are depends on what part of your body is treated. These are some common side effects for people who have radiation for laryngeal cancer:

  • Fatigue. Throughout the course of your radiation treatments, you may feel tired, especially in the later weeks.

  • Red or dry skin.

  • Tender mouth or mouth sores. These can be treated with medication that can be swished in the mouth or with rinses. 

  • Sensitive tongue. You may lose your sense of taste or smell or may have a bitter taste in your mouth. Drinking plenty of liquids may lessen the bitter taste.

  • Difficulty swallowing.

  • Changes in and a reduced amount of saliva, or loss of saliva.

  • Swelling in the larynx. This may cause changes in your voice and a feeling that a lump is in your throat. The doctor may give you medicine to reduce swelling or relieve pain.

  • Sore throat.

For people who have had radiation to the head and neck region, healing after dental work may be a problem. During and after cancer treatment, you should continue to see your dentist regularly since your mouth may be sensitive and easily irritated.

Eating soft foods may help relieve these side effects. A dietitian can also suggest foods to eat. Although the side effects of radiation may not go away completely, most of them gradually become less upsetting, and people feel better when the treatment is over.

People who have radiation instead of surgery usually do not have a stoma, which is an opening made through the neck and into the windpipe. A tube for breathing, called a tracheostomy (trach) tube, is inserted into the stoma. A stoma and trach tube enable you to breathe and talk in the usual way, although your voice may sound different. Your voice may be weak at the end of the day and may be affected by changes in the weather.

Keeping your mouth moist is important. Your doctor or nurse can help you manage side effects of radiation.