Whether used as a single modality or as part of a combined approach, radiation therapy (RT) plays an essential role in the treatment of several head and neck malignancies. Despite the improvement in radiation delivery techniques, normal structures in the vicinity of the target area remain susceptible to a wide range of adverse effects. Given their high incidence, some of these effects are referred to as expected postradiation changes (eg, mucositis, sialadenitis, and edema), while others are considered true complications, meaning they should not be expected and can even represent lifethreatening conditions (eg, radionecrosis, fistulas, and radiationinduced neoplasms). Also, according to their timing of onset, these deleterious effects can be divided into four groups: acute (during RT), subacute (within weeks to months), delayed onset (within months to years), and very delayed onset (after several years).The authors provide a comprehensive review of the most important radiation-induced changes related to distinct head and neck sites, focusing on their typical cross-sectional imaging features and correlating them with the time elapsed after treatment. Radiologists should not only be familiar with these imaging findings but also actively seek essential clinical data at the time of interpretation (including knowledge of the RT dose and time, target site, and manifesting symptoms) to better recognize imaging findings, avoid pitfalls and help guide appropriate management.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging