About laryngeal cancer radiotherapy | Cancer Research UK
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About laryngeal cancer radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. You can't feel radiotherapy at all while you are having treatment. It is like having an X-ray.

Radiotherapy alone

Radiotherapy is often the first choice of treatment for cancer of the larynx. Most people who have early stage laryngeal cancer will be cured with this treatment. Your doctors may suggest radiotherapy or surgery . You usually have radiotherapy daily from Monday to Friday over 3 to 7 weeks.

Radiotherapy after surgery

Your doctors may suggest radiotherapy after surgery as it can help to stop your cancer from coming back. You usually have treatment daily, for 4 to 6 weeks.

Radiotherapy with chemotherapy or biological therapy

You may have radiotherapy, and chemotherapy or biological therapy at the same time, for a locally advanced larynx cancer. The chemotherapy or biological therapy, can help the radiotherapy to shrink or control the cancer for some people.

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

You may hear this called palliative radiotherapy. Your cancer may be causing difficulty in swallowing or breathing. Radiotherapy can shrink the cancer for a time and relieve these symptoms. It can also help to relieve pain. To control symptoms, you are most likely to have a short course of a few treatments, over a few days.

 

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Radiotherapy for laryngeal cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. You can't feel radiotherapy at all while you are having treatment. It is like having an X-ray. It works because cancer cells are more likely to be killed by radiation than normal cells. But some normal cells will also be damaged and this is what causes side effects.

 

Radiotherapy as a treatment on its own

Radiotherapy is often the first choice of treatment for cancer of the larynx. Most people who have early stage laryngeal cancer will be cured with this treatment. Your doctors may suggest radiotherapy or endoscopic surgery. Both treatments work well and help you to keep your voice. Whether radiotherapy is suitable for you depends on

  • The size of the cancer
  • How far it has grown into the tissues of the larynx
  • Exactly where in the larynx the cancer is

With early cancer of the larynx, you usually have treatment daily from Monday to Friday over about 3 to 7 weeks. Your specialist calculates the total radiotherapy dose that you need over the whole course and then divides it up into fractions. Dividing the treatment into small fractions helps to reduce the side effects.

Recent research has shown that chemotherapy treatment given before radiotherapy can shrink the tumour and make the radiotherapy work better. Chemotherapy given in this way is known as neo adjuvant chemotherapy.

 

Radiotherapy after surgery

Radiotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant therapy. It helps to stop your cancer from coming back. Doctors use radiotherapy after surgery for a number of different reasons. You may have it if the cancer is likely to come back because

  • The tumour was difficult to remove
  • Your surgeon thinks there may be cancer cells left behind because they could not get a clear margin
  • The tumour had grown through the larynx wall
  • Cancer cells were found in your lymph nodes or breaking through the outer wall of the lymph nodes

You usually have treatment daily, from Monday to Friday for about 4 to 6 weeks. So you have 20 to 30 separate treatments (fractions).

Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) is a commonly used type of radiotherapy. It shapes the radiotherapy beam to fit the shape of the tumour very accurately. The dose in the treatment area can be varied. This is helpful when giving radiotherapy to several different groups of lymph nodes at the same time. Less normal tissue receives the higher dose of radiotherapy. You may have fewer or less severe side effects than with other types of radiotherapy. 

IMRT may be offered on its own, or with chemotherapy or biological therapy, for locally advanced cancer of the larynx. Research shows that IMRT reduces the risk of a dry mouth by giving only a low dose of radiotherapy to the salivary glands.

 

Radiotherapy with chemotherapy or biological therapy

You may have radiotherapy, and chemotherapy or biological therapy at the same time for a locally advanced larynx cancer (stage T3 or T4). Doctors have found through research that these treatments sometimes work better when you have them together. The chemotherapy or biological therapy can help to shrink or control the cancer. 

If you have radiotherapy as well as chemotherapy you may hear this called chemoradiotherapy.

 

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

Radiotherapy can relieve symptoms in advanced cancer of the larynx. You may hear this called palliative radiotherapy. Your cancer may be causing you to have difficulty in swallowing. Or it may be pressing on your windpipe and making it difficult for you to breathe. 

Radiotherapy can shrink the cancer for a time and relieve the symptoms. Radiotherapy can also help to relieve pain. To control symptoms, you are most likely to have a short course of a few treatments, over a few days.

 

More about radiotherapy

Find out about

Radiotherapy

Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT)

Chemotherapy for laryngeal cancer

Biological therapies for laryngeal cancer

Possible side effects of radiotherapy to the head or neck

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IMRT side effects radiotherapy

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Updated: 21 July 2015