• search icon
  • head icon
  • information icon
  • group icon
  • page icon
  • close icon


Find A Radiation Oncologist

Side Effects

The side effects you might experience will depend on the part of the body being treated, the dose of radiation given and whether you also receive chemotherapy. Before treatment begins, ask your doctor about possible side effects and how best to manage them. This list doesn't represent all of the possible side effects.

This is a visual side effects chart showing short and long term side effects. Larger bubbles show higher likelihood of occurrence. To see a larger version, click on the chart.

Head and Neck Cancer Side Effects

For patients who prefer to look at the side effects in text instead of graphics, please see below.

Short term side effects

Side effects are usually temporary and usually go away shortly after treatment ends. Below is a list of possible side effects you might notice during your treatment.

More likely

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Skin irritation
  • Dry mouth
  • Hair loss on face or back of head
  • Loss or altered taste
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Thick mucous/secretions

Less likely

  • Swelling of neck
  • Temporary feeding tube
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Voice changes
  • Cough
  • Severe skin reaction
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty opening mouth
  • Lung inflammation
  • Ear fullness

Long term side effects

After the short-term side effects of radiation therapy resolve, others may become noticeable months or years later.

More likely

  • Weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of hair on face/back of head
  • Neck swelling
  • Discoloration of skin
  • Thickening/tightness of neck
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Chronic taste changes

Less likely

  • Decreased thyroid function
  • Permanent feeding tube
  • Voice changes 
  • Tooth decay
  • Difficulty opening mouth
  • Hearing loss
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Jaw damage
  • Brain tissue damage
  • Arm nerve damage
  • Second cancers