What are the side effects of radiation therapy for cancer of the larynx?

Radiation therapy aimed at the neck may cause side effects:
  • Sore throat and difficulty swallowing: Your throat may become sore, or you may feel like there’s a lump in your throat. It may be hard for you to swallow.
  • Changes in your voice: Your voice may become hoarse or weak during radiation therapy. Your larynx may swell, causing voice changes. Your doctor may suggest medicine to reduce the swelling.
  • Skin changes in the neck area: The skin on your neck may become red or dry. Good skin care is important. It’s helpful to expose your neck to air while also protecting it from the sun. Also, avoid wearing clothes that rub your neck, and don’t shave the area. You should not use lotions or creams on your neck without your doctor’s advice. These skin changes usually go away when treatment ends.
  • Changes in the thyroid: Radiation therapy can harm your thyroid (an organ in your neck beneath the voice box). If your thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone, you may feel tired, gain weight, feel cold and have dry skin and hair. Your doctor can check the level of thyroid hormone with a blood test. If the level is low, you may need to take thyroid hormone pills.
  • Fatigue: You may become very tired, especially in the later weeks of radiation therapy. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise people to stay as active as they can.
  • Weight loss: You may lose weight if you have eating problems from a sore throat and trouble swallowing. Some people may need a temporary feeding tube.
Some side effects go away after radiation therapy ends, but others last a long time. Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be upsetting, your doctor can usually treat or control them. It helps to report any problems that you are having so that your doctor can work with you to relieve them.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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