August 05, 2023

Throat Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy

When an individual has been diagnosed with a form of head and neck cancer, radiation therapy is a very common treatment modality that may be recommended. After an initial consultation with a radiation oncologist, the video demonstrates the following prepatory steps taken to ready a patient for radiation treatment.

Step 1:

A custom mesh of the patient’s face, neck and shoulders is created. This mask is used to keep the head and neck absolutely still in an identical manner each time a patient has radiation therapy while allowing the patient to breathe easily.

Step 2:

Once the mask has been created, a CT simulation scan is performed to obtain 3D images used for treatment planning. This scan allows the radiation oncologist to precisely target the tumor and surrounding areas that will require radiation exposure, while sparing normal tissues as much as possible. Before radiation therapy begins, not only is a PET scan obtained to ensure the cancer has not spread elsewhere in the body, but the patient may also be required to see an oral surgeon to evaluate dental health, general surgeon for possible feeding tube placement, and a medical oncologist if chemotherapy is also required.

Step 3:

After all initial planning has been completed, radiation therapy can proceed. During this process, the head and neck is secured to the table with the mask to ensure consistent precise positioning throughout the entire course of radiation treatment. Radiation therapy is accomplished by directing a stream of radiation particles that is molded to precisely the cancer’s 3D shape via the multi-leaf collimator. Furthermore, the radioactive beam is rotated continuously around the cancer to ensure healthy tissue is not overly exposed, but collectively, keeping the focus of the radiation beams all centered on the cancer itself.

A single treatment takes only a few minutes and is performed daily except on weekends. Treatment usually takes about 6-7 weeks. If chemotherapy or immunotherapy is given, it is typically administered once every 7 to 21 days for a total of 3-7 doses and increases the beneficial effect of radiation on eliminating the cancer. Common side effects of radiation therapy to the head and neck include temporary burns to skin and throat, fatigue, and altered sense of taste. Longer term consequences can include dry mouth and throat, teeth weakening, neck and throat stiffness. Radiation therapy will hopefully cause the cancer to shrivel away to nothing.

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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