Head and neck radiotherapy side effects

Having radiotherapy for head and neck cancers can cause side effects such as a sore mouth and difficulty swallowing. 

Radiotherapy to the head and neck can also cause general side effects such as tiredness and sore skin in the treatment area.

Sore mouth and problems with your teeth

Radiotherapy to the head and neck can cause problems with your mouth or teeth, such as a sore or dry mouth, tooth decay or thrush. Find out about ways to manage these side effects. 

Weight loss

You might lose weight during radiotherapy to the head and neck. Your radiotherapy team will advise you on how to try to maintain your weight. 

Difficulty swallowing

You might have difficulty swallowing during radiotherapy to your head or neck and for several weeks afterwards. There are a number of things you can do to help yourself cope.

Changes to your voice

Having radiotherapy to your head and neck may affect your voice during treatment and for a few weeks afterwards. 

Hair loss

Radiotherapy to the head can cause hair loss in the treatment area. How much hair loss depends on the size of the area being treated and the dose of radiotherapy. Find out about hair washing tips and wigs. 

Swelling in your neck or face (lymphoedema)

After radiotherapy to treat a head and neck cancer, you are at risk of getting swelling called lymphoedema in your neck or face.

Last reviewed: 
10 Nov 2020
Next review due: 
10 Nov 2023