Side Effects of Radiation Oncology

Before beginning treatment, your doctor and nurse will talk with you about the side effects you might experience, how long they might last, and how serious they might be. Please ask them any questions you may have about what to expect.

The side effects of radiation treatment vary from patient to patient. The side effects that you might have will depend mostly on the amount of radiation you receive and the part of your body being treated. The most common side effects of radiation treatment are:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Skin changes
  • Loss of appetite

These can result from radiation treatment to any part of the body. Other side effects are related to treatment of specific body areas.

Fortunately, most side effects go away in time, and in the meantime, there are ways to reduce the discomfort they may cause. Be sure to tell your Radiation Oncologist, nurse or radiation therapist about any side effects that you notice. They can help you treat the problems and tell you how to lessen the chances that side effects will come back. If you have a side effect that is particularly severe, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while or change the kind of treatment you receive.

During radiation therapy, the body uses a lot of energy healing itself. Stress related to your illness, daily trips for treatment, and the effects of radiation on normal cells may all add to fatigue. Most people begin to feel unusually tired after a few weeks of radiation therapy. Feelings of weakness or weariness gradually will go away after your treatment is finished.

If you feel tired, limit your activities and rest as often as possible. Do not think that you have to do all the things you normally do. Try to get more sleep at night, and rest during the day if you can.

During radiation therapy, you will need to be very gentle with the skin in the treatment area. You should be careful not to irritate your skin in any way. The skin in the treatment area may become red, irritated, sunburned or tanned. After a few weeks, you may have very dry skin. Your doctor and nurse can give you advice on relieving itching or discomfort, and may be able to give you cream to help. By following the tips on the next page, you can help ease your discomfort.

Find out more about skin care and radiation therapy

It is very important not to lose weight during radiation therapy. Good nutrition is a must. Try to eat a balanced diet that will prevent weight loss. It may help to eat small meals often and eat a variety of different foods. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if your treatment calls for a special diet.

If you have pain when you chew or swallow, your doctor might tell you to use a powdered or liquid diet supplement. Supplements come in many different flavors, and they are available at drug stores without prescription. These supplements include Ensure, Sustacal, and Carnation Instant Breakfast. There are also others available that you might want to try.

Get eating tips for people undergoing radiation therapy

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