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Radiation Therapy Side Effects

Radiotherapy is an effective treatment for many cancers, but it can cause unwanted side effects. Radiotherapy's side effects vary from person to person, depending on the area of body that is being treated.

Common side effects:

  • Fatigue
    Some patients may feel sense of tiredness and have less energy during and after a course of treatment. To get plenty of rest and avoid strenuous activity is the key.
  • Lack of Appetite
    It is very important to keep your weight throughout the treatment period. Lack of appetite may lead to loss of weight. You are advised to eat smaller quantities of food but at more frequent intervals. Keep a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Skin Reaction
    Skin may get red or become dark, dry and itchy after 3 to 4 weeks of radiation therapy. Occasionally it may peel and become moist. You must always keep the treatment area dry and do not rub your skin. It is good to wear loose clothing.
  • Nausea and Vomiting
    Usually occurs to patients who are undergoing whole body radiotherapy or abdominal treatment. Patients may have to cope with an upset stomach or diarrhea. It may start after second or third week of treatment. You are advised to eat nothing or only a light snack such as toast, biscuits or apple juice for a few hours before your treatment. Avoid greasy food.
  • Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing
    These side effects may occur if the field of treatment involves the throat or esophagus. Patient may feel discomfort when he/she swallows. This can be relieved by medication prescribed by your specialist. Try to rest and refrain from talking as much as possible. Only take soft diet like eggs, porridge, minced meat, pudding, cereals and cooked vegetables. Avoid greasy and spicy food, tough meat and citrus fruits.
  • Cough and Pneumonitis
    A patient who is being treated at the chest area may face troublesome cough for a while. Usually it occurs six to eight weeks after treatment. It maybe acute and result into difficulty in breathing. Patient is advised to check with physician for medication to relieve this problem.
  • Diarrhea
    For a patient having radiotherapy treatment at pelvic or abdomen area, diarrhea or loose bowel may start after second or third week of treatment. You are advised to reduce or avoid eating vegetables, bran and fruits during the course of the treatment. Take anti diarrhea medication to control severe symptoms and drink plenty of water.
  • Hair Loss
    Hair loss including facial hair will happen only on the treatment field area. Hair may start to drop after the1st and 2nd week of treatment. Hair loss is reversible and will grow back after 6 months. However, it may be permanent in some situations where the treated area receives high doses of radiation.
  • Neutropenia
    Neutrophil is a type of white blood cell that is important in fighting infection. While receiving radiotherapy treatment, the number of neutrophils may decrease. This will put the patient at a higher risk of getting infections. It is most common in patients undergoing treatment to the cranial spinal.