Throat Cancer Treatment Radiation

Throat cancer occurs in the esophagus, larynx, thyroid gland or the squamous cells in the lining of the throat. If left untreated, throat cancer can spread to surrounding tissues. Over time, tumors can grow large enough to cause breathing problems and problems in the trachea.

While the exact cause of throat cancer remains unknown, the majority of throat cancer patients have used tobacco products at some point in their lives. Other risk factors for throat cancer include heavy alcohol consumption and a family history of throat cancer. Throat cancer affects more men than women and typically affects those over the age of 50.

What Is Radiation Treatment?

Radiation is one of three traditional ways that throat cancer is treated. In fact, half of all cancer patients receive radiation as part of their treatment. The other two treatment options for throat cancer are surgery and chemotherapy.

While radiation alone is typically used to treat small tumors, it is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy to treat larger tumors. Radiation is also used to treat cancer cells that may not have been completely removed by surgery.

Some cancer treatment centers also include other kinds of complementary treatments for throat cancer, such as:

These alternative treatments are sometimes helpful when used in addition to the accepted methods of throat cancer treatment.

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

Radiation treatments use small, incredibly precise doses of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and interrupt the cell multiplication process of cancer cells. These doses of radiation are regulated and are at a much higher dose than other types of radiation that people receive from other radiation procedures, such as X-rays.

One concern that many people have is that radiation will damage healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. However, radiation is much more damaging to cancer cells than it is to healthy cells. The reason for this is that cancer cells divide faster than healthy cells and are most susceptible to radiation when they are dividing. Although some healthy cells will be damaged during the radiation treatment, they tend to recover from the effects of radiation while the cancer cells do not.

Types of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy for cancer comes in the following two forms:

  • External therapy, done with a machine outside your body, is the most common type of radiation therapy. In external therapy, the patient’s body is held in place with molds, and shields are used to protect the non-cancerous areas of the body. This type of radiation therapy is done on an outpatient basis.
  • Internal therapy is done when your doctor needs to give a small area of your body a high dose of radiation. The radioactive material is encased in tubes, wires or some sort of capsule, which are placed in or near the tumor during surgery.

Side Effects of Radiation Treatments

Patients are typically most concerned with the short- and long-term side effects associated with radiation therapy.

The side effects of radiation therapy vary depending on what part of your body is being treated and how much radiation you receive. With throat cancer radiation treatment, side effects often include:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • dry mouth
  • earaches
  • nausea
  • thick saliva
  • sore jaw.

Some patients also find that food tastes different after they receive radiation. Like chemotherapy, most side effects from radiation treatment are temporary and will disappear after the treatment has ended.

However, radiation does have the potential to produce some long-term side effects over time. In rare cases, some people develop a new or secondary cancer. It is important to speak with your doctor about the possible long-term risks of radiation therapy.

Costs of Radiation Treatment

The costs of radiation therapy vary depending on several different factors, including how much radiation therapy you receive, as well as the frequency and duration of your radiation therapy.

Most insurance companies cover some or all of the traditional cancer treatments, but you need to get information about the specific coverage from your insurance provider. Make sure that you keep accurate records of your treatments and fill out all claim forms completely.


Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (n.d.). Throat Cancer Treatment. Retrieved June 25, 2007 from

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