While the vast majority of patients do not experience side effects, there are a few things you should note.
Although patients do not experience any pain during the delivery of radiation therapy, effects of radiation do gradually build up as treatment continues. The vast majority of patients do not experience any side effects, although fatigue is common.
Should side effects or other complications occur, they are typically infrequent and are usually limited to the treatment area. In addition, the chance of encountering side effects depends upon various other factors such as age or other health conditions. During the same type of treatment, one patient may experience side effects while another may not. Any side effects should be brought to the attention of your nurses, therapists and radiation oncologists immediately because there are almost always ways to effectively treat the condition. Once radiation is completed, most side effects disappear.
The most common side effects are skin reaction and fatigue. In addition, patients with head and neck cancer may also experience soreness of the throat and mouth, dry mouth and a changed sense of taste or smell.
Sometimes the area of the body being treated reacts to radiation therapy. The reaction ranges from mild redness and dryness, like a sunburn, to severe peeling or desquamation. Any reaction typically ends once treatment is complete although the area of skin may be slightly darker than before treatment and more sensitive to sunlight.
Any skin discomfort should be reported to your treatment team at once. There are topical medications that can be prescribed to counteract the skin irritation.
One of the most common side effects of radiation therapy is fatigue. Patients experiencing fatigue will be tired, weary, weak or without energy. Although radiation does not require an alteration in normal daily activity, care should be given to plan for periods of rest. The fatigue disappears for most patients several weeks after treatment ends.
Less Common Side Effects
Temporary loss of hair sometimes occurs at the site of treatment only. Regrowth of hair usually starts 6 to 8 weeks after therapy is complete.
Nausea and vomiting may occur, especially when radiation is delivered to the abdominal area. Notify your nurse or physician if this occurs. Medication may be prescribed if the condition persists.
Diarrhea also sometimes occurs when the abdominal area is being treated. Inform your treatment team if you experience diarrhea. They may recommend a change in diet or prescribe medicine to help.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is one of the most common reactions to any cancer treatment. Other side effects such as stomach discomfort can lead to a lack of desire to eat properly; however, it is important to maintain a healthy diet during treatment.