Throat Cancer Radiation Side Effects
It is an unfortunate truth that the debilitating effects of cancer are often matched only by the effects of its treatments, many of which leave the patient unable to work, play, or even eat a meal. Such is the case for those undergoing chemotherapy, which floods the body with toxic chemicals in an effort to find and kill cancer cells, and it is just as true for patients subjected to radiation therapy, which — though it affects a much smaller area — also damages many healthy cells in addition to cancerous tissue. Those who undergo radiation treatments for throat cancer are in a uniquely unpleasant position, as the throat serves many essential roles in the body’s most fundamental functions. If you or someone you know is receiving radiation therapy for throat cancer, keep reading as the experts at Chemo Mouthpiece™ explain what side effects you can expect and how to stay as healthy as possible during treatment.
How Does Radiation Therapy Work?
Unlike chemotherapy, which affects the patient’s entire body, radiation therapy tends to affect only a small area. Because its effects are so highly localized, radiation tends to have a less significant impact on a patient’s overall quality of life compared to chemo, since the side effects of radiation are typically limited to the area where it was applied.
Whereas chemo works through the use of medications that attack rapidly dividing cells like those in tumors, radiation destroys the genetic material in cells that governs how they reproduce and grow. Although your oncologist will try to damage as little healthy tissue as possible, any use of radiation to treat cancer will come with a risk of significant side effects, simply because the radiation affects normal and diseased tissue alike. In many cases, radiation treatments are used in conjunction with chemo or other treatment types to more effectively target the cancer.
There are two main forms of radiation therapy, external beam radiation and a treatment called brachytherapy, which involves placing radioactive materials inside the body; you can learn more about each type of treatment below.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
The most common type of radiation used to combat cancer is external beam radiation, also called EBR or EBRT. As the name suggests, this treatment involves directing a beam of radiation — often a high dose of x-rays — at the area of the body where the cancer is located. The technician who performs this operation will work with your oncologist to minimize the risk and severity of side effects by ensuring that the radiation hits as little of the body as possible, generally by using imaging devices like CT or PET scans to carefully plan the treatment area in advance.
Instead of shooting radiation through the body from the outside, brachytherapy — also called internal radiation — treats tumors from within the body. To do so, radioactive material is implanted in the area of the tumor, where it then delivers a steady dose of radiation to cancer cells. Because brachytherapy affects a relatively small area of the body, it tends to have few side effects, though this particular treatment is rarely used for patients with throat cancer.
Side Effects of Radiation for Throat Cancer
Though radiation therapy carries many of the same side effects as chemo, the localized nature of this treatment means that those side effects are often specific to the area being treated, rather than affecting the entire body. Patients who are being treated for throat cancer will likely experience side effects in their mouth and throat, including those listed below:
- Dry mouth or a thickening of the saliva
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing solid food
- Persistent sore throat
- Oral mucositis, a condition in which painful sores appear in the mouth
- Tooth decay and other dental issues
- Changes in how certain tastes are experienced
- Nausea, vomiting, or both
This may seem like a significant number of side effects, but the list of conditions caused by chemo is much longer than the one above. Still, for a patient with throat cancer who is being treated with radiation, these conditions will be more than enough to make life difficult.
Dealing with the Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Because radiation is caused by energy that permeates living tissue, often well beyond the cancer itself, it can be almost impossible to prevent its side effects. That said, there are a few ways patients can improve their quality of life during treatment, such as the following:
- A good oral care routine can mitigate some of the oral effects of radiation and reduce the likelihood of potentially life-threatening complications.
- Use mouth rinses to keep your mouth moisturized and your saliva from getting too viscous.
- Eat soft, bland foods that are safe and easy to swallow.
- Ask your doctor about options for managing pain, either by adjusting treatments or using painkillers.
If you are struggling to deal with the side effects of radiation for throat cancer, talk to your cancer care team. They will almost certainly have some suggestions for improving your condition, which might involve taking supplements, making lifestyle changes, or meeting with a specialist.
Get Help Managing the Oral Side Effects Experienced by Cancer Patients
Finding ways to improve your quality of life during radiation therapy can make it that much easier to soldier through your treatments. Though the Chemo Mouthpiece™ is not an effective solution for combatting radiation therapy side effects, it offers effective cooling power to throughout the mouth to chemotherapy patients in one simple oral cryotherapy device. If you have been experiencing oral pain caused by chemotherapy or another kind of cancer treatment, try the Chemo Mouthpiece™ today. Learn more by visiting us online or calling (866) 461-7518 right away.