Laryngeal cancer radiotherapy side effects (coughing)


Have finished 6 weeks of radiotherapy for T2 vocal chord cancer in jan and voice is slowly getting better and eating almost back to normal. The thing I am suffering with is a constant cough due to an excess of mucus/saliva in my throat, this is particularly bad at night when I'm lying down and I'm finding its keeping me awake nearly all night and driving me mad. I mentioned it to my consultant and he calmly said it was all normal and I should try streaming but nothing seems to help. Its embarrasing when I'm out or at work as the coughing can get so bad that I gag and it sounds like i'm being sick. I just wondered if anyone else had been thorough the same thing and might have any tips on how to control it. I'm find co-codomol helps and the liquid morphine but don't want to have to keep taking that for obious reasons. Please help!


  • Hi Zarker, My sister has just started her radiotherapy on her larynx/vocal chords and she is coughing all the time and like you, can't sleep at night. Did you find any relief - all suggestions welcome. L
  • Hi there are u still on the site need advice came across youre post and like u I’m being driven mad by the mucus in throat constant cough that’s making me gag and nearly makes me feel can’t breathe that has me in such a panic I won’t be alone now as had few attacks in house alone freaked me out 

    wishing I had not had radiotherapy as so down and feel will be forever 

    I need to go back to work end of month but can not go back like this 

    is there an end to this help needed please 

  • Hi there the first 6 months are the worse , I was exactly the same but it does improve with time , you just have to be patient . I'm presuming your consultant deemed the radiotherapy was necessary to treat the cancer and that without things might have been much worse . I'm only saying this as this was my way of getting through it , I just wanted the cancer gone so I could get on with my life so if the radiotherapy caused nasty side affects I just thought it's the price you pay for getting better . The good news is that the coughing will ease , the bad news is it doesnt fully go away but it gets much easier to deal with as time goes on . I'm now 7 years post treatment and I still get mucus but it just feels like the tail end of a cold and it does make me cough but not anywhere near as bad as before . The radiotherapy effectively burns away minute layers of the the larynx so the throat keeps telling the brain to produce mucus to coat the scar tissue. . I find dust sets me off or coffee beans purculating ! Try telling everybody your situation so you don't have to explain when you get a coughing fit and drink lots of water . Oddly enough I find since the treatment I don't get as many colds as I used to ! It will improve , just give it time and be kind to yourself . Good luck . Andy
  • Hi all thank goodness there is hope as beginnig to wish I had only had surgery and not radiotherapy I know I probably panic wen the hacking cough starts especially wen I was on my own and maybe that’s why I cud not get my breath or talk as I suffered anxiety and panics before all this 

    and now like I’m on egg shells eating drinking anything incase it kicks off 

    glad of the advice and praying  

    it soon gets better 

    I should have app next week so they can review look with camera but even that Worry  me in case putting camera down starts me off 

    we’ll best  to all may this nightmare end

    glad we can all support each other xx pauline 

  • Hi Lyda...was just reading your post....I just finished 28 radiation treatments for vocal cord cancer...the side affects are driving me crazy...the coughing and choking is painful..feels like something is ripping in throat. I gag till I get dry this the norm . Omg.  I can't sleep cause I caught all night.  I'm worn out .can't eat much . Very dry mouth one minute then excessive mucas the next . And ideas... 

  • Hi zarker...would like to know how you are doing? I'm going thru the same except when I cough and gag it is painful...feels like throat is ripping...hard to of mouth is sensitive and throws me into coughing!!!

  • Just stumbled across your post. Zarkers post is an old one - 2011 - so I expect he is fully back enjoying life and doesn’t check in here now. However, I also had surgery twice and 20 radiation treatments to my stage 1 vocal cord cancer which was completed 6 months ago. The 2 weeks after the treatment finished were the worst. I literally did not stop coughing for 2 weeks solid, day and night. I couldn’t get my breath, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t bring anything up other than white sputum. I was totally exhausted and thought it would never end. The coughing ceased completely after about 3 months and now I am having still to constantly clear my throat as there is still plentiful mucous down there which just will not come out. I have tried different catarrh linctus’ , steaming with menthol oils and various mouth washes.. nothing appears to work. I believe that the radiation to this highly sensitive area permanently damages the throat linings and we just have to live with it. It gets better with time until it really is just a minor inconvenience... I am very grateful that at present there is no sign of any cancer and that I can speak, eat and breathe normally, that is the bottom line. My medical team tell me this is completely normal when recovering from rads to the vocal cords and I am now totally used to it. You will get better slowly and hopefully a year down the line this will all be a bad dream. We will be monitored frequently for the next 5 years ( my next appointment is tomorrow ) and so we’re very fortunate that the disease was discovered at an early stage. There is a 90% cure rate, so we will be fine. Good luck going forward, any further enquiries I would be happy to aid you with.

  • Thanks again

    I appreciate you sharing your experience with me.

  • Hi there sorry for th delay on replying . I'm now 7 years almost 8 years post treatment and have now been discharged as fortunately there has been no reaccurrance in my cancer so I'm very grateful and relieved and am healthy  . I had T2 left vocal chord and had 36 radical radiotherapy treatments and like you both the side effects  in terms of coughing were awful . Just constant coughing and gagging with masses of mucus .

    This has improved a lot over time but hasn't completely gone away as I still get a build up of mucus which makes me cough and want to clear my throat . It's worse if I'm near dust or polluted areas and sometimes eating can trigger it . Usually a few times a day I have a bout of coughing , generally worse in the morning lasts about 3 or 4 mins then clears completely , but it's something I've learned to live with and most people I know , know why I'm coughing . Sometimes I get filthy looks from people I don't know standing in a queue or on a train. As they think you have a cold and are spreading germs , I just ignore them. Very occasionally I can get a build up of mucus  and it can very briefly close  the flap in my throat and it can feel like I'm choking which is alarming but always clears after a few seconds , this has happened only a few times and thankfully is rare .

    When you think about it RT burns a layer of very fine tissue from the inside of the larynx and leaves it scarred which is why your brain sends signals to lubricate and protect it wth mucus 

    Hope this doesn't sound all gloom and doom , it isn't , it's an irritation but only a minor one and my voice is now so much better and continues to do so even though 5 years ago a voice theraitst said it wouldn't improve , so don't  always believe what your told ! 

    I hope this is some help . I wish you all a speedy recovery and remember this will be  part of the past one day and will not occupy your mind as it does now . If you want anymore info on my journey check my original post from when I wa diagnosed, there is masses of info there not just from me but others with the same problem who are now all cured and healthy .

    Bear wishes and healing thoughts 


  • Good to hear you are doing fine. When I was first diagnosed back in January this year I immediately scoured google for advice etc. I stumbled onto this forum and in particular your ongoing post : it was reassuring to hear that others were experiencing identical symptoms / side effects and it really helped me through my 2 day ops and subsequent RT. 2018 has been an “ unusual “ year for me, but I end it on a good note as , at this moment there is no sign of the original cancer and my consultant is very happy with me. I’d just like to say “thank you “ for your previous contributions and wish you all the best for a long future.