Radiotherapy for laryngeal cancer

Doctor standing in front of a radiotherapy machine

Radiotherapy is a treatment that uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. The X-rays come from a machine called a linear accelerator. They are aimed directly at your cancer cells to destroy them. The radiation only affects the cells in the treated area. 

Radiotherapy for laryngeal cancer may be given:

  • As your main treatment, especially for small, early stage (stage 1 and 2) cancers. An advantage of radiotherapy is you will avoid losing you voice
  • After surgery to destroy any remaining tumour
  • With chemotherapy or targeted therapies to make the treatment work better (chemoradiation)
  • To relieve symptoms if the cancer is advanced or has come back. For example, pain, discomfort, bleeding. This is called palliative radiotherapy

Your doctor will let you know how many sessions or treatments you need. Usually you come into hospital for treatment every weekday for a number of weeks, with a break at the weekend. You will need to go to hospital before your treatment for at least one planning session.

Planning radiotherapy

You will need to have a special mould (mask or shell) made of your head for you to wear during treatment. This makes sure that your head is still and the radiation is aimed at the same area each day. The treatment area will be marked on the mould using ink. 

On your first visit to the radiotherapy unit, you lie on a couch and the person who makes the mould will explain how it is made. When the mould is ready, you lie under a machine called a simulator that takes X-rays of the area to be treated. The dose of radiation will be decided and tightly controlled for your treatment.

Dental check-up

It is important that you have a dental check-up before receiving any radiotherapy to your larynx. This is to make sure that any mouth infections are fully healed and your teeth are in good condition. Your dentist can also remove any teeth that need to be extracted. If you have dentures, they will be checked to make sure they do not cause trauma or infection. Radiotherapy to the head and neck can cause damage to bones in this area. This is known as osteoradionecrosis.

Side effects

Radiotherapy to the larynx can cause side-effects in the area such as a sore or dry mouth, taste changes and difficulty swallowing, as well as general side-effects such as tiredness. Read more about radiotherapy and its side-effects.

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