Radiation Therapy for Head & Neck Cancer

Doctors at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center may manage head and neck cancer with radiation therapy, which uses high energy beams to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy is sometimes given at the same time as chemotherapy, an approach called chemoradiation. Chemotherapy drugs often help improve the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

Chemoradiation is sometimes used instead of surgery for head and neck cancer if your doctor determines that it is more than or as effective as surgery, which may create cosmetic or functional problems.

Sometimes, radiation therapy is used by itself. For instance, people with early laryngeal cancer who do not need surgery can often be treated with radiation alone.

Radiation Therapy Planning

Our radiation oncologists use CT scans in conjunction with treatment-planning software to customize radiation therapy. The software creates a three-dimensional image of the tumor and the surrounding structures, which helps doctors deliver targeted radiation doses. It also enables doctors to avoid healthy tissue, such as the salivary glands, which produce saliva.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy

Doctors at NYU Langone usually use intensity-modulated radiation therapy to manage head and neck cancer. With this therapy, the radiation beams come from different directions and are broken into many small, computer-controlled doses of different strengths.

Tailored to the size, shape, and location of the head and neck cancer, these “minibeams” enable doctors to deliver high doses of radiation to specific areas while avoiding nearby healthy tissue. Treatment is delivered in fractions—typically once daily, five days a week, for six or seven weeks.

Managing Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Common side effects of radiation therapy for head and neck cancer include inflammation of the lining the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and dry mouth. To ease any discomfort, our doctors can adjust the radiation dose, prescribe medication, or refer you to our integrative health services.