Following radiotherapy, it'slikely that you'll have some side effects. Side effects occur because radiotherapy temporarily damages some healthy cells, as well as destroying cancerous ones.
Side effects depend on:
Radiotherapy affects different people in different ways and it's difficult to know exactly how you'll react to the treatment. For some people, side effects are mild, while others experience more severe effects.
Some side effects begin during treatment, whereas others can appear weeks or months afterwards.
Most side effects of radiotherapy only last for a few days or weeks after treatment has finished. However, some, such as tiredness or hair loss , can lasta few months.
Before starting treatment, you should discuss the risks with your treatment team.
Most common side effects of radiotherapy are relatively mild and short-lived. Some are described below.
Your skin may become red and sore in the area being treated a few days or weeks into a course of radiotherapy, or for up to a couple of weeks afterwards.
Some peoples skin may peel (rather like sunburn). This usually heals within a couple of weeks.
Your treatment team will advise about the best way of caring for your skin during treatment. If your skin becomes sore, you should try not to irritate it further. For example:
You may feel tired both during and after radiotherapy. If you feel tired, make sure you give yourself time to rest, and take naps if necessary.
Tiredness is particularly common towards the end of a course of radiotherapy and can last for some time afterwards. Doctors believe it is due to the body repairing damage to healthy cells.
A shortage of red blood cells ( Iron deficiency anaemia ) can also contribute to tiredness during radiotherapy. Therefore, blood tests may be required during radiotherapy for some cancers, to ensure you're not becoming anaemic. If you have anaemia, you may need a blood transfusion .
Most people aren't sick during radiotherapy. However, some people feel sick during, or for a short time after, their treatment. If you experience nausea, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help control it.
Radiotherapy to your abdomen (tummy area) or pelvic area may make you sick. This can last a few days after your treatment stops. Anti-sickness medication can be taken to help this.
The combination of feeling sick and tired during radiotherapy can make you lose your appetite.
If you have difficulty eating, you may find it easier to eat several small meals throughout the day. You can also speak to your radiotherapist, who may refer you to a dietitian (nutritional specialist).
Diarrhoea is a common side effect of radiotherapy to the abdomen or pelvic area. It usually starts a few days after treatment begins and gradually gets worse as treatment continues. Medication is available.
After your treatment has finished, diarrhoea should disappear within a few weeks. You should tell your doctor if your symptoms haven't improved after a few weeks, or if you notice any blood in your stools (faeces).
Hair loss is a common side effect of radiotherapy to your head or neck. Unlike chemotherapy , radiotherapy only causes hair loss in the area being treated.
Many people find losing their hair distressing and difficult to cope with. Talk to your family and friends about how you're feeling, so they can support you. Your treatment team may also be able to offer advice.
A few weeks after finishing treatment, your hair should start to grow back. In some cases, the hair grows back a different colour or texture to how it was before.
Radiotherapy to the chest can cause the tube through which food passes (the oesophagus) to become temporarily inflamed, which may cause temporary discomfort when swallowing. If required, your doctor can prescribe medication to help soothe this.
You should avoid eating hot or spicy food and drinking acidic drinks or spirits during this time, because they can aggravate the problem.
Having radiotherapy may cause you to temporarily lose interest in sex , particularly if you have other side effects, such as tiredness or nausea, or if you're anxious about your condition or treatment.
Radiotherapy to the vaginal area may cause your vagina to become sore and narrower. Your radiotherapist will tell you how to treat this using a vaginal dilator, which is a device inserted into your vagina to help prevent it narrowing. Having sex regularly after your treatment can also help to prevent your vagina narrowing.
If you experience vaginal dryness or pain when having sex, you can use lubricants or ask your GP or radiotherapist to prescribe appropriate medication.
If you have radiotherapy to the pelvic area, there's also a risk of infertility (see below).
In men, temporary erectile dysfunction and loss of interest in sex are common side effects of pelvic radiotherapy.
You may also experience uncomfortable swelling in the affected area.
Exercising regularly can help to prevent stiffness. If you have stiff joints and muscles, your doctor or radiotherapist may refer you to a physiotherapist, who will recommend suitable exercises.
Your doctor will discuss your chance of experiencing side effects before you consent to treatment .
Some possible long-term side effects are described below.
In women, radiotherapy to the pelvic area exposes the ovaries to radiation. In pre-menopausal women, this may cause early menopause (where a woman's monthly periods stop) and infertility (the inability to get pregnant). This is often very upsetting, particularly for younger women who want to have a family.
Before having treatment, your doctor will discuss all the options and available support with you. For example, it may be possible for some of your eggs to be surgically removed, frozen and stored until you are ready to have a baby.
However, this won't be possible if you need to have radiotherapy immediately, and it's not available on the NHS in all areas.
Radiotherapy to the pelvic area or testicles can cause infertility in men, which may be temporary or permanent.
If there's a risk you could become infertile following radiotherapy, your doctor will discuss this with you before your treatment. It may be possible to store your sperm until you decide to have a baby, although this isn't always available on the NHS.
Long-term changes to the skin can occur after having radiotherapy. Some people notice that their skin is thicker, a slightly darker colour and, occasionally, dimpled (like the peel of an orange). These changes usually improve over time.
Bowel incontinence , sometimes known as faecal incontinence, is a rare side effect of radiotherapy to the pelvis. It's the inability to control your bowel movements which can result in faeces (poo) leaking from your rectum (back passage).
Bowel incontinence can be treated with dietary changes, medicines or a number of different surgical procedures.
Radiotherapy can damage your bodys network of channels and glands that make up the lymphatic system. One of the functions of the lymphatic system is to drain excess fluid from your tissues.
If the lymphatic system is damaged, fluid can build up and cause pain and swelling. This is known as lymphoedema .
Lymphoedema often occurs in the arms or legs, although it can also affect other areas, such as the chest. Arm lymphoedema is sometimes seen in women who have had armpit surgery or radiotherapy for breast cancer.
It may be possible to prevent lymphoedema occurring using appropriate skincare techniques and exercise. If lymphoedema does develop, it can be controlled with early treatment in a specialised lymphoedema clinic.
Radiotherapy is sometimes associated with a slightly increased risk of developing certain types of cancer many years after treatment (called a "second cancer").
Radiotherapy is a treatment that involves the use of high-energy radiation. It is commonly used to treat cancer.
Radiotherapy can be administered in a number of ways. The treatment recommended for you will depend on your individual circumstances.
Following radiotherapy, it's likely you'll have some side effects. Side effects occur because radiotherapy temporarily damages some healthy cells