Tonsil Cancer Radiation Side Effects
There’s no such thing as an easy type of cancer, whether it affects your lungs, brain, tonsils, etc. Those who suffer from this potentially fatal disease not only have to deal with the symptoms of their condition but also with the side effects of the various treatments – such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy – that ravage the body even as they battle cancer inside it.
Patients who undergo radiation therapy for tonsil cancer in particular face a daunting array of unpleasant side effects, such as oral mucositis, that can severely impact their quality of life. To learn more about tonsil cancer radiation side effects and what you can do about them, keep reading as the people at Chemo Mouthpiece™ discuss this topic.
How Radiation for Tonsil Cancer Works
Though it might sound scary, radiation therapy is actually one of the less damaging forms of cancer treatment commonly used today. That’s because radiation is an example of a “localized” treatment, meaning that it affects one small area or system rather than the entire body; in contract, a “systemic” treatment like chemotherapy circulates throughout the patient and affects almost every area of the body. In effect, this means that radiation often comes with fewer side effects than chemo because they are limited to the area where the treatment was applied.
When you go in for your tonsil cancer radiation treatments, odds are you’ll receive one of two forms of radiation therapy: external beam radiation, which involves shooting a beam of energy into the body from the outside, or brachytherapy, which involves surgically planting one or more small pieces of radioactive material around the tumor to shrink it with less impact on the surrounding tissues.
Either method is generally painless, and your oncologist will calculate the exact dose of radiation needed for your treatment ahead of time, leaving little chance of an overdose. Treatments are typically administered 5 days a week over the course of 6-7 weeks, but alternate schedules are sometimes used depending on the case.
A common type of external radiation therapy used to treat tonsil cancer is intensity-modulated radiation therapy or IMRT. This method of radiation treatment uses beams of protons and photons that can change intensity and conform to the shape of the tumor to more precisely irradiate the areas that need it while minimizing the effects on healthy tissues. Radiation-based treatments like IMRT may be used alone or in combination with surgery.
Side Effects of Tonsil Cancer Radiation
As with most cancer treatments, radiation therapy comes with a laundry list of side effects, each seemingly more unpleasant than the last. These side effects occur because radiation affects all types of tissue, including those around, in front of, or behind a tumor.
When radiation is directed at cancer cells from outside the body, it must travel through tissues to get to the tumor – tissues likely to react negatively to the radiation – and less precise methods of radiation could affect the cells surrounding the cancerous tissue as well. Additionally, radiation can sometimes make existing problems, including those involving the teeth or gums, much more severe. Below are some of the most common tonsil cancer radiation side effects:
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing solid food
- Changes in your sense of taste
- Inflammation and soreness in the mouth or throat
- Tooth decay
- Mouth sores
- Changes in the pitch of your voice or hoarseness
- Dry mouth or thicker saliva
- Constant feelings of fatigue
Most of the side effects of radiation therapy are likely to clear up once treatments stop. However, there are a few side effects that could last much longer or become permanent. For example, radiation can lead to a condition called “osteoradionecrosis of the jaw,” in which damage to the jaw bone can cause it to break. If the pituitary gland or thyroid gland is irradiated, they could stop working as well, which could cause issues with a patient’s metabolism.
Limiting the Side Effects of Tonsil Cancer Radiation Therapy
Though there’s little that can be done to prevent the side effects of radiation therapy for tonsil cancer, there are some steps you can take to reduce the severity of at least some of these complications. One of the most important things you can do to prepare for your treatments is to visit your dentist. A number of side effects linked to radiation of the head and neck area affect the teeth, jaw, or gums and are made worse if the patient has had a recent tooth infection or extraction; clearing up these issues ahead of time might help make your recovery quicker, easier, and less painful.
It’s also important that you maintain your overall health both before and during treatments; this means eating enough calories to stay at a healthy weight, observing good sleep habits, giving yourself time to rest if you feel fatigued, and generally adjusting your lifestyle and food choices to the changes brought on by your radiation treatments.
Specialized Oral Ice Pack for Helping Chemo Patients with Side Effects
It may not be of much use to someone receiving radiation therapy for tonsil cancer, but the Chemo Mouthpiece™ has proven to be a helpful tool for mitigating chemo-induced oral mucositis – a potentially debilitating condition in which painful lesions form in the mouth.