Things You Should Know...About Treatment to the Head and Neck
Around the time that you have completed 7 – 10 radiation treatments you may experience some side effects. This is due to the radiation dose accumulating in your body causing a delayed effect. The side effects may continue during the rest of your treatment and begin to disappear 7-10 days after you have finished your treatments. The following are side effects and preventative measures that your nurse and Radiation Oncologist will cover in more detail at you consultation and regular weekly visits during your treatment cycle.
- Dental care: Prior to starting treatment, a dentist with oncology background will evaluate the teeth and oral cavity. Any problems in your mouth will be taken care of by the dentist before treatment begins. This will prevent radiation-induced tooth decay.
- Skin Reactions: Only the skin exposed to radiation will be affected. Keeping your skin clean with a mild soap and lukewarm water and drying with a soft towel will help. Do not scrub the skin with loofas or gritty soaps, or massage area of treatment. Soaps approved by the Palomar Health Radiation Oncology Department are: Dove, Aveno (Oatmeal), Neutrogena for sensitive skin. Do not wear any deodorant or perfumes on the area of treatment. These items can contain skin irritants that may have an adverse effect with the radiation exposure. Consult with the nurses before you use any lotions or ointments on this area as well. The radiation therapist will tell you not to apply any lotion or ointment to the treatment site before your daily treatments. Once your daily treatment is complete, you may apply lotions or ointments to the area. This is to prevent any adverse effect the radiation exposure may produce with the lotion. Wearing loose clothes including camisoles, boxer shorts, sweat suits or cotton clothing can help prevent chafing.
- Temporary Hair Loss: Hair in the treatment area will most likely shed within the first few weeks. It will re-grow three to six months after your last treatment.
- Sore Throat or Difficulty Swallowing: If you are treated in neck or upper chest area, discuss this with the Radiation Oncologist and nurse so they may provide medication and dietary guidance.
- Sexual Activity: Please discuss this with the Radiation Oncologist or nurse.
- Fatigue: During the last few weeks of treatment you may feel a decrease in energy levels. This is normal and we suggest that you listen to your body and rest when necessary. Exercise and work can be performed during treatment, as long as you remain within your level of comfort. It is a good idea to discuss your plans with the medical staff.
- Changes in taste buds: Consult with nurse for dietary information.
- Thickening of the saliva and dry mouth: Drink lots of water and spit the thick saliva out. Swallowing it can cause vomiting. Citrus candies are helpful.
- Counseling: Our nursing staff has resources and experience in dealing with the many and varied needs that may arise during this challenging time in your life. Do not hesitate to ask questions, or ask for help. We are here for you and your family.
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