Radiation Side Effects

The side effects of radiation will depend on the person, the location of the cancer, and the stage of the cancer. Some patients experience little to no side effects from radiation, while others have severe side effects. Research has improved the side effects of radiation by offering new ways of administering the treatment. Some common side effects of radiation include:

Table of Contents

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is defined as frequent bowel movements that may be loose or watery. Radiation treatment may cause diarrhea due to its effects on the lining of your digestive tract. Diarrhea can also be caused by an infection or medications you are on, such as antibiotics and/or medicines used to treat constipation. It is important to let your doctor know if you are having more than 3 loose, watery stools in a 24 hour period, or if you have diarrhea associated with abdominal pain or cramping. Do not take ANY medications for new symptoms of diarrhea without first contacting your physician.

Tips:

Fatigue

Fatigue is often described as weakness, lack of energy, or feeling heavy or slow. It can occur in varying intensities, from mild to severe. Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of radiation and it can last from 6 weeks to 12 months following treatment. It can be caused or worsened by many factors, such as: anemia, poor nutrition, dehydration, lack of exercise, shortness of breath, infection, over-exertion, lack of sleep, or other medications.

Tips:

Hair Loss

Hair loss, also known as alopecia, is when some or all of your hair falls out as a result of damage to the cells that cause hair growth while undergoing radiation. Hair loss will only happen on the part of the body that is being treated. Hair loss generally begins about 2-3 weeks after starting radiation, and it will start to regrow 3-6 months following your last treatment. High doses of radiation may cause permanent hair loss.

Tips:

After hair loss:

Intimacy

Radiation can lead to sexual changes in men and women which may impact intimate relationships. In women radiation may damage the ovaries, leading to decreased hormone levels or fertility problems. Symptoms of decreased hormone production may include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, irritability, irregular or no menstrual periods, bladder or vaginal infections, or a decreased interest in sex. Symptoms for men may include inability to reach climax, impotence, or a decreased interest in sex.

Tips:

Mouth and Throat Changes

Radiation not only targets and kills cancer cells, but it also kills health cells too, such as the ones that line your mouth, throat, and lips. Teeth, gums, and the glands that make saliva can also be affected. Common problems with the mouth and throat may include:

Tips:

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea is when you feel sick at your stomach, vomiting is when you throw up. Dry heaves can occur when your body tries to vomit, but your stomach is empty. Radiation may cause nausea and/or vomiting. This can occur as early as 30 minutes after your treatment or up to several hours after the treatment is over.

Tips:

Skin Changes

Radiation can damage the skin surrounding the area that is being treated. The skin can often become red, swollen, itchy, dry, and peeling. The will usually not have a chance to regrow in between radiation treatments, so symptoms can gradually worsen. The affected skin will often become darker or blotchy and have a different texture following treatment. It is important to always use sunscreen following radiation treatment because the skin will be more susceptible to skin cancer.

Tips:

Urinary Changes

Radiation treatment can damage cells in the kidney or bladder.

Tips:

Call your doctor if you have one or more of the following symptoms: