Before treatment starts

Your specialist doctor or nurse will usually give you advice on preparing for treatment.


If you are a smoker, stopping smoking:

  • may decrease the side effects of your treatment
  • decreases the risk of the cancer coming back
  • decreases the risk of developing a second cancer in your head and neck, and also in other parts of your body
  • decreases the risk of other conditions such as heart disease.

Continuing to smoke increases the risk of side effects and can make radiotherapy less effective. Smoking can be difficult to give up, especially at times of stress. If you would like to give up smoking, there are organisations and self-help groups that you may find useful. Your GP can also give advice and prescribe nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine patches, gums and inhalers.


Avoiding alcohol, particularly spirits, may help to reduce some of the side effects of your treatment. If you’d like support to help reduce your alcohol intake, ask your specialist nurse or doctor.

Dental care

Your doctor or nurse will advise you to visit a dentist or oral surgeon for a check-up and to have any necessary treatment. Making sure your teeth or dentures are in good condition reduces the risk of possible problems with your mouth during and after treatment.

We have more about looking after your mouth and teeth during and after radiotherapy. We also have information about mouth care during and after chemotherapy.

Back to Coming to your decision

Finding out your treatment options

Knowing basic information about your type of cancer and different treatments options can help you to make an informed treatment decision.

Making your decision

If you’re struggling to come to a decision about treatment, try following these five steps.