Radiation therapy treats cancer by using high energy to kill tumor cells. Many people who get radiation therapy have skin changes and some fatigue. Side effects vary from person to person; depend on the radiation dose, and the part of the body being treated. Some patients have no side effects at all, while others have quite a few. There is no way to predict who will have side effects.
Skin changes may include dryness, itching, peeling, or blistering. These changes occur because radiation therapy damages healthy skin cells in the treatment area.
Fatigue is often described as feeling worn out or exhausted.
If you have bad side effects, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while, change the schedule, or change the type of treatment you are getting.
Depending on the part of your body being treated, you may also have:
- Hair loss in the treatment area
- Mouth changes such as soreness, dryness and difficulty swallowing (if radiation to head and neck area)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sexual impact (tenderness and soreness of genital organs if radiation to this area)
- Blood count changes
Most of these side effects go away within two months after radiation therapy is finished.
Late side effects may first occur six or more months after radiation therapy is over. Late side effects may include infertility, joint problems, lymphedema, mouth problems, and secondary cancer. Everyone is different, so talk to your doctor or nurse about whether you might have late side effects and what signs to look for.
- Be sure to get plenty of rest. You may feel more tired than normal.
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Depending on the area of your body getting radiation (for example, the belly or pelvic area), your doctor or nurse may suggest changes in your diet.
- Take care of the skin in the treatment area. If you get external radiation therapy, the skin in the treatment area may become more sensitive or look and feel sunburned. Ask your doctor or nurse before using any soap, lotions, deodorants, medicines, perfumes, cosmetics, talcum powder, or anything else on the treated area.
- Do not wear tight clothes over the treatment area. This includes girdles, pantyhose, or close-fitting collars. Instead, wear loose, soft cotton clothing. Do not starch your clothes.
- Do not rub, scrub, or use adhesive tape on treated skin. If your skin must be bandaged, use paper tape or other tape for sensitive skin.
- Do not put heat or cold (such as a heating pad, heat lamp, or ice pack) on the treatment area.
- Protect the treated area from the sun. Your skin may be extra sensitive to sunlight. Ask your doctor if you should use a lotion that contains a sunscreen.
Did you experience any side effects from your radiation treatment? What did you do to cope? Please feel free to share any tips to help others.