What you can do to help reduce side effects

Stop smoking

Smoking during radiotherapy is likely to make your side effects worse, and it reduces the effect of radiotherapy on the cancer. So, if you smoke, stopping smoking will help your recovery. You can get information and support to help you stop.

Cut down on alcohol

Alcohol, especially spirits, will irritate the areas affected by your treatment. So, it’s best not to drink alcohol or use mouthwashes containing alcohol during radiotherapy.

Look after your mouth

It’s very important to look after your mouth during and after radiotherapy. Keeping your mouth as clean as possible can help protect your teeth, encourage tissue healing and reduce the risk of problems in the future.

Tips for looking after your mouth and teeth

  • Brush your teeth (or dentures) with a small, soft toothbrush after each meal.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste and fluoride gel or mouthwash daily, as prescribed by your dentist. The fluoride helps to protect and strengthen your teeth.
  • Use dental floss or tape daily to clean in between your teeth (but check with your specialist doctor or nurse if you’re having chemotherapy or radiotherapy).
  • If your dentures are uncomfortable, you may need to leave them out for a few weeks.
  • Rinse your mouth with a non-alcohol-based mouthwash.
  • Inspect your mouth daily for signs of infection (ask your dentist or specialist nurse what to look for).
  • Take sips of water and rinse your mouth regularly during the day to keep your mouth moist.
  • Limit sugary and acidic foods and drinks to mealtimes only.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Do jaw exercises as advised by your specialist to prevent jaw stiffness.

We have more information about mouth care following radiotherapy.

Eat healthily

Eating can be a struggle during treatment, but it’s important to get the nutrition you need. This will help your tissues to heal, increase your strength and can also reduce your risk of getting some long-term effects of radiotherapy.

Tell your specialist nurse or radiographer or ask to see a dietitian if you’re finding it difficult to eat. There are lots of things that can be done to help make sure you get the nutrition you need. If swallowing is a problem, a speech and language therapist can give you advice and support. We have more information about how to cope with eating problems.

Back to About radiotherapy

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.

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.