Possible late (long-term) side effects of radiotherapy

Modern ways of planning and giving radiotherapy are designed to limit the chances of late side effects as much as possible. But some people do have long-term effects after radiotherapy to the head and neck.

Many treatment side effects get better over time. If you have side effects that are not getting better or if you develop new symptoms, let your cancer specialist know. They will assess your symptoms and explain if they are likely to be a result of treatment. You may have tests to find out the cause.

Not everyone will have a long-term effect of treatment. If you are concerned about the risk of developing particular side effects, speak to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse.

The most common late effects include:

  • a dry mouth
  • difficulty swallowing
  • taste changes
  • a higher risk of tooth decay
  • stiffness in the jaw, neck or shoulders
  • changes to your hearing
  • changes in how you look.

We have more information about managing the late effects of head and neck treatment.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Possible side effects

You can get side effects during radiotherapy treatment to your head and neck – these usually improve a few weeks after treatment is over.

Making a radiotherapy mask

During radiotherapy to the head and neck a mask is used to help you keep still so that exactly the right area is treated.

Before your radiotherapy

Before you start radiotherapy, your team will explain what your treatment involves and how it may affect you.

Your radiotherapy team

You will meet many different specialists from your radiotherapy team. You may see them before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.