Radiation - mouth and neck - discharge; Head and neck cancer - radiation; Squamous cell cancer - mouth and neck radiation; Mouth and neck radiation - dry mouth
When you have radiation treatment for cancer, your body goes through changes. Follow your health care provider's instructions on how to care for yourself at home. Use the information below as a reminder.
Two weeks after radiation treatment starts, you might notice changes in your skin. Most of these symptoms go away after your treatments have stopped.
You may also notice changes in your mouth. You may have:
Your body hair will fall out 2 to 3 weeks after radiation treatment starts, but only in the area being treated. When your hair grows back, it may be different than before.
When you have radiation treatment, color markings are drawn on your skin. Do not remove them. These show where to aim the radiation. If they come off, do not redraw them. Tell your provider instead.
To care for the treatment area:
Tell your provider if you have any breaks or openings in your skin.
Keep the area that is being treated out of direct sunlight. Wear clothing that protects you from the sun, such as a hat with a broad brim and a shirt with long sleeves. Use sunscreen.
Take good care of your mouth during cancer treatment. Not doing so can lead to an increase in bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria can cause infection in your mouth, which can spread to other parts of your body.
Rinse your mouth 5 or 6 times a day for 1 to 2 minutes each time. Use one of the following solutions when you rinse:
Do not use rinses that have alcohol in them. You may use an antibacterial rinse 2 to 4 times a day for gum disease.
To further take care of your mouth:
If you use dentures, wear them as infrequently as possible. Stop wearing your dentures if you get sores on your gums.
Ask your provider or dentist about medicine to help with mouth dryness or pain.
You need to eat enough protein and calories to keep your weight up. Ask your provider about liquid food supplements that can help.
Tips to make eating easier:
Drink at least 8 to 12 cups (2 to 3 liters) of liquid each day, not including coffee, tea, or other drinks that have caffeine in them.
If pills are hard to swallow, try crushing them and mixing them with ice cream or another soft food. Ask your provider or pharmacist before crushing your medicines. Some medicines do not work when crushed.
You may feel tired after a few days. If you feel tired:
Your provider may check your blood counts regularly, especially if the radiation treatment area on your body is large.
See your dentist as often as recommended.
Doroshow JH. Approach to the patient with cancer. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 169.
Majithia N, Hallemeier CL, Loprinzi CL. Oral Complications. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 40.
National Cancer Institute website. Radiation therapy and you: support for people with cancer. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/radiationttherapy.pdf. Updated October 2016. Accessed July 1, 2022.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 1/25/2022
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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