Radiotherapy to the head and neck can cause temporary side effects such as a sore mouth or throat and difficulty swallowing. Side effects can be mild or more troublesome, depending on the dose of radiotherapy and the length of your treatment. They are usually more severe if you have radiotherapy combined with chemotherapy.
Side effects usually begin to develop after about two weeks of radiotherapy. They may continue to get worse for 7-10 days after treatment ends before gradually improving. Most people find that side effects have noticeably improved 6-8 weeks after radiotherapy has ended.
Sometimes radiotherapy can cause long-lasting side effects or new side effects that develop months or even years later. These are called long-term or late effects. Two of the most common late effects are a dry mouth and an increased risk of tooth decay. Your specialist can tell you whether your treatment may cause any late effects.
There are things you can do to keep your mouth healthy during and after treatment. Let your specialist doctor or nurse know if you are having mouth problems. They can give you advice and treatments to help.
If you’re having problems eating and drinking because of mouth problems you may see a dietitian for more support. We also have information about coping with eating problems.