Radiotherapy side effects on tonsil and other oral cancers


This is a 3 part article:

A: My mom’s personal experience with tonsil cancer
B: Radiotherapy side effects on tonsil and other oral cancers- Part 1 <– you are reading this article
C: Radiotherapy side effects on tonsil and other oral cancers- Part 2

After my mom had her operation, the surgically removed tonsil and nearby lymph nodes were sent for test. The results came back- the cancer cells had spread to 2 out of 40 lymph nodes. The specialist told us that mom will have to undergo radiotherapy on her throat- 36 doses in total. She started her radiotherapy sometime in July, if I remember correctly.

The side effects cannot be seen in the first few doses. But by about the 6th dose or more, the horrible effects will start to surface. Radiotherapy is localised and the rays are directed straight to the throat area. And the side effects are:

  • the throat area becomes darkened- like coal burning the area
  • open sores form around the mouth and throat. It makes eating and swallowing very painful and sometimes impossible
  • at first, the mouth will have lots of mucus secretion- after that, the secretion will stop totally, sometimes permanently
  • oral infections and candiasis sets it due to open sores
  • the patient loses weight drastically because of inability to swallow or eat. Within the span of less than 3 months while and immediately after undergoing radiotheraphy, my mom lost 22kg- her weight dropping from 67kg to 45kg. She maintained the weight till today
  • the patient also becomes very weak- both physically and mentally. It is not possible for the patient to take public transport for treatment. And the patient should not be left alone unattended at home

The side effects of radiotherapy is very tramautising but it is necessary to arrest the spread of the cancer cells. After the 10th dose or so, my mom got so weak from the treatment and it broke my heart to see her suffering so much that we initially wanted to stop the treatment. The specialist had to give her a short break for about a week because she was too weak after some doses.

But in the end, we decided to go on with the treatment- when my mom got too weak to even walk, let alone travel in the car to go for treatment, I had no choice but to hospitalise my mom. At first I have wanted to quit my job to look after her full time but my mom said that ‘you will make me go faster if you quit your job’. So held on to the job. During weekdays, I went to visit her before going to work and again after I finished work. In the weekends, I took her back home.

A few of my mom’s friends also had cancer- and in the course of treatment, the patient’s condition is really very bad- most of the time, they looked like they are at death’s door. But few years later, the patient may recover and look like he/she has always been on the top of health. Whereas those who looked okay may develop secondaries. It is a very personal decision because the nature of cancer is very unpreditable and really varies from one person to the other. Someone’s else success story may not be applicable to the next person with the same condition.

The importance of staying hydrated

Radiotherapy produces a lot of heat and radiotherapy rays in the body. To bring down the heat on the body, I boiled barley, and some other Chinese herbs. Water from the young green coconut also helps to cool down the body.  It is important to drink lots of water when undergoing radiotherapy to cool down the body. If the open sores or bacteria infections in the mouth and throat makes it painful to drink water, get medication or antibiotics to control the infections and pain.  Don’t avoid drinking enough fluids just because of the pain.

If eating and drinking gets really too painful, inform the doctor who may then have fluids inserted intravenously.

At first, there will be a lot of mucus secretion keeping the patient up at night- so a spit pan need to be placed in handy for the patient to easily spit out the mucus, sometimes with blood. Then, towards the course of the radiotherapy, the mucus membrane will be wiped out and the secretion will stop. The mouth and throat will then become very dry- which also keeps the patient up at night.


Syringe for dryness of the mouth due to radiotherapy

What my mom did is that she kept a syringe- not those with a needle but those with a small opening with a cup of water. Whenever the dryness in her mouth woke her up, she would use the syringe to pump a little water to wet her mouth. Later when her mouth was no longer sore from infections, she found that munching on certain fruits like grapes or smearing honey helps keep her mouth from feeling dry.

The dryness in her mouth lasted for about 2 years.

CLICK HERE for next article on adapting to food intake due to no more saliva and teeth..

This is a 3 part article:

A:  My mom’s personal experience with tonsil cancer

B:  Radiotherapy side effects on tonsil and other oral cancers- Part 1 <– you are reading this article

C:  Radiotherapy side effects on tonsil and other oral cancers- Part 2


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