Radiation Therapy


Radiation therapy is a common treatment used for a variety of cancers. External beam therapy is used most in the United States, where in Europe and other countries brachytherapy, or the intralesional placement of radioactive sources, is also used.


Depending on the site, stage of tumor, and type of radiation used, a routine is established indicating 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 issues of head and neck radiation therapy include mucositis (mouth sores), dry mouth, dysgeusia (loss of taste), trismus (difficulty opening widely), and osteoradionecrosis.


Radiation oncologists have developed sophisticated 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 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 efficacy and minimize side effects.

For more information about radiation therapy and oral health, see these resources:


You may also wish to read about:


  • Xerostomia

  • Trismus

  • Osteoradionecrosis

  • Dental caries prevention