External radiotherapy for head and neck cancer
External radiotherapy treats cancer by using doses of high-energy x-rays to destroy the cancer cells while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.
Treatment is given in the hospital radiotherapy department. It can be planned in different ways. It may be given:
Monday-Friday, with a rest at the weekend (this is the most common method)
more than once a day
every day including at the weekend.
Treatment may take 3-7 weeks, depending on the type and size of the cancer. Your radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) or specialist nurse will discuss the treatment with you.
Conformal radiotherapy (CRT)
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This is the most common type of external beam radiotherapy used for head and neck cancers.
A special attachment to the radiotherapy machine arranges the radiation beams to match the shape of the cancer. Shaping the radiotherapy beams reduces the radiation received by surrounding healthy cells.
Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
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IMRT is available in some hospitals. It’s a newer way of giving radiotherapy and can shape radiotherapy even more accurately to the exact shape of the cancer.
Research has found that, for some people, having IMRT rather than standard radiotherapy may reduce some long-term side effects such as a dry mouth.