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Having your laryngeal cancer radiotherapy

Men and women discussing laryngeal cancer

This page tells you about having radiotherapy for cancer of the larynx. You can go to information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Having your laryngeal cancer radiotherapy

You go to the hospital for radiotherapy once a day, from Monday to Friday, with a break at weekends. The length of the course of treatment varies, depending on the type and size of the cancer, and on the aim of the treatment.

Radiotherapy masks

You probably need to wear a treatment mask. This keeps your head and neck very still during the radiotherapy treatment. This is to make sure the radiation only goes to the exact area that needs treating. The mask fits over your lower jaw and neck. The radiographer attaches it to the radiotherapy couch each time you have treatment. You have your mask made during your first planning appointment.

What are the side effects?

Most people have some radiotherapy side effects. They usually come on gradually during your course of treatment. Over the 2 to 3 weeks following your treatment they will slowly get better. It may take up to 6 weeks before the soreness has completely gone, or longer if you had chemotherapy as well.

Generally, radiotherapy causes tiredness and sore, red skin in the area being treated. Radiotherapy to the neck can cause 

  • A sore throat
  • Pain on swallowing
  • A dry mouth
  • A hoarse voice 

If your throat is very sore you may need strong painkillers, such as morphine. You can have a liquid diet if you need to. Tell the radiotherapy staff about any problems you have.

Your voice will probably get more hoarse as you go through your treatment. It may go altogether. It will come back, but may sound different to you afterwards.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating laryngeal cancer section.

 

 

Where and when you have treatment

You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. You usually go to the hospital for treatment once a day, from Monday to Friday, with a break at the weekends. The length of the course of treatment varies, depending on the type and size of the cancer, and on the aim of the treatment.

 

Planning your treatment

Before you begin your treatment, the radiotherapy team carefully plan your external beam radiotherapy. This means working out how much radiation you need to treat the cancer and exactly where you need it. 

Your planning appointment may take from 30 minutes up to a couple of hours. You will have a planning CT scan. The scan shows the cancer and the structures around it.

CT scanner

You lie on the scanner couch with the treatment area exposed. The radiographers put some markers on your skin. You need to lie very still. Once you are in position the radiographers move the couch up and through the scanner. The scanner is a doughnut shape. 

The radiographers leave the room and the scan starts. It takes up to 5 minutes. You won't feel anything. The radiographers watch from the next door room.

Before the planning appointment you may also have other scans, such as MRI scans or PET scans. Your treatment team can feed the other scans into the planning scanner.

Moulds or masks

During the planning session you have a treatment mask made. The mask is also called a mould or shell. It is to keep you perfectly still while you have treatment. The mask fits over your lower jaw and neck. The radiographer attaches it to the radiotherapy couch each time you have treatment.

Having the mask made won't hurt. But it may feel a bit strange to have someone working so closely on your head and neck. It usually takes about 30 minutes.

Mesh plastic radiotherapy mask

After your planning session

You may have to wait a few days or up to 2 weeks before you start treatment. During this time the physicists and your radiotherapy doctor decide the final details of your plan. 

Your doctor plans the areas that need treatment, and outlines areas to limit the dose to or avoid completely. They call this contouring. Then the physicists and staff called dosimetrists plan the treatment very precisely using advanced computers.

 

Having radiotherapy

Radiotherapy machines are very big. The machine may be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. Before your first treatment your radiographers explain what you see and hear. The treatment rooms usually have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.

You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes a few minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time, so the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready.

A photo of a linear accelerator, which gives radiotherapy

Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room for a few minutes. They watch you carefully on a closed circuit television screen.

External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.

Below is a short video showing what to expect when you have radiotherapy for head and neck cancer.

View a transcript of the video about having laryngeal cancer radiotherapy (opens in a new window).

 

Side effects of laryngeal radiotherapy

Radiotherapy side effects usually come on gradually during your course of treatment. Most people have some side effects with radiotherapy to the head and neck. They are usually at their worst at the end of your course of treatment. Over the 2 to 3 weeks following your treatment the side effects slowly get better. It may take up to 6 weeks before the soreness has completely gone. 

Getting over a long course of treatment completely can take quite a few months. If you had chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy, it can take 3 or 4 months for the soreness to settle.

Generally, radiotherapy causes tiredness and sore, red skin in the area being treated. Radiotherapy to the neck can cause

  • A sore throat
  • Pain on swallowing
  • A dry mouth
  • A hoarse voice

Your throat may become more sore as you go through your treatment. If it is very sore, you may need strong painkillers, such as morphine. Towards the end of a 4 or 6 week course, you may find it very difficult to swallow. You can have a liquid diet if you need to. Make sure you tell the staff in the radiotherapy department about any problems you have. They can arrange for you to see a dietician and to have liquid food on prescription.

If your mouth is very dry, your doctor can prescribe artificial saliva to keep it moist. This is not just to make you more comfortable. You are less likely to get an infection if your mouth is moist.

Your voice is likely to get more hoarse as you go through your treatment. It may go altogether. It will come back, but may sound different to you afterwards. Radiotherapy to the voice box can change the sound of your voice permanently.

If you need help with side effects, speak to the radiographer or nurse at your radiotherapy department. They can help you to manage the side effects. Very rarely, side effects are particularly severe. If this happens, your doctor will stop the treatment for a time to allow you to recover.

Remember to check with your radiotherapy department before putting any lotions, powders or creams on the skin in your radiotherapy treatment area. If your skin is sore, lotions or creams may make things worse not better. If you need it, ask staff at the radiotherapy department for something to soothe your skin.

 

More about radiotherapy

Find out about

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy moulds and masks

Radiotherapy head and neck side effects

Radiotherapy general side effects

Painkillers

Managing diet problems in cancer

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Updated: 21 July 2015