Patients & Caregivers
Radiation therapy is a common treatment used for different cancers. External beam therapy (radiation delivered to cancer cells from outside the body) is used most in the United States, where in Europe and other countries brachytherapy, or the placement of radioactive sources into a tumor, is also used.
Depending on the location, stage of tumor, and type of radiation used, a routine is established suggesting the time and amount of radiation to be provided to the patient. For example, a patient with neck node involvement may receive a daily fraction of 2 Gray (Gy) five days per week for 7 weeks, for a total of 70 Gy.
Common problems of head and neck radiation therapy include mucositis (mouth sores), dry mouth, dysgeusia (loss of taste), trismus (difficulty opening widely), and osteoradionecrosis (bone death of the jaw).
Radiation oncologists have developed complex strategies aimed at increasing doses to cancerous tissue while decreasing doses to non-diseased tissue. This may be done using blocks and shields. Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) uses computer design to decrease complications; for example, a parotid (salivary gland) sparing protocol is meant to maintain saliva flow when possible.
A combination of processes may add forms of chemotherapy while radiation therapy is being administered to maximize intended results and minimize side effects.
For more information about radiation therapy and oral health, see these resources:
Dental Management of the Head and Neck Cancer Patient Treated with Radiation Therapy: Update 2021 - Michigan Dental Association
Oral Care During Head and Neck Radiotherapy - Special Care Dentistry Association
Oral Care After Head and Neck Radiotherapy - Special Care Dentistry Association
Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Care Guideline - American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical
Practice Guideline Endorsement of the American Cancer Society Guideline
Head and Neck Radiation Treatment and Your Mouth - National Institutes for Health
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The information on the Rhode Island Cancer and Oral Health Resource Guide, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other external materials are for informational purposes only. The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island does not provide medical advice. The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.