Radiation therapy involves the usage of high doses to destroy cancer cells. Getting side effects from radiation is common as it can damage the healthy cells and tissues near the treatment area. According to an advanced research, there have been trials in recent years to reduce the side effects of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy, also called a local treatment means that it only affects the targetted area of the body. Side effects depend on the type of cancer, directed area, the radiation therapy dose, your general health, and many other factors. Side effects usually start by the second or third week of treatment. Some people have mild side effects and are able to carry out their daily life without any interference. On the other hand, others have severe effects which limits their ability to do a lot of things. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Tripti Saxena, Senior Consultant & Head, Radiation Oncology IOSPL, Fortis Hospital, Noida, about the side effects of radiation therapy.
Side effects of radiation therapy
The doctor plans your radiation treatment very carefully to avoid completely or atleast lessen the side effects. Some patients might have little or no side effects from radiation therapy, and others feel a lot of changes. Side effects are mostly short-term and can be treated easily by experts. Most of the side effects go away within 1 or 2 months after you have taken radiation therapy. According to Dr. Tripti, here are the side effects of radiation therapy:
1. Skin problems
When people get radiation therapy regularly, their skin cells do not get enough time to recover between treatments. Skin problems occur only at that place on the body which gets radiation. Skin reactions are like mild sunburn. Some common skin issues are dryness, redness, itching, peeling, sores, ulcers and swelling. In fact, it can also lead to discolouration of the skin.
2. Fatigue and weakness
Fatigue is the feeling of physical, mental and emotional tiredness. It is very common in people with cancer and occurs a lot with radiation therapy. Some people start to feel tired and week after a few weeks of radiation therapy. This happens because radiation treatment damages healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. Fatigue and weakness mostly gets worse as the treatment goes on.
3. Hair loss
Hair loss is also common side effect of radiation therapy just like chemotherapy for treating cancer. This side effects mostly happens if the radiation therapy is aimed at an individual's head or neck. Hair can also be thinned in the area being treated. Hair loss is temporary and new hair growth happens within a few weeks after the treatment process is completed. Even if you don't lose your hair, your scalp may be tender and you may want to cover your head.
4. Mouth and throat changes
Mouth and throat changes also mostly occur if radiation therapy is being directed to the head, chest and neck. Radiation not only kills cancer cells but can also harm healthy cells in the glands that produce saliva and the moist lining of your mouth. Mouth and throat problems include mouth sores, tooth decay, dry mouth, gum infection and loss in taste.
5. Nausea and vomitting
Nausea and vomiting can happen after getting radiation therapy on the stomach, small intestine, colon or some areas of the brain. The chances of having nausea and vomiting depend on how much radiation you are getting, how much of your body is in the treatment area, and whether you are having chemotherapy along with that or not.
6. Diarrhea and changes in appetite
Your body needs extra energy to recover during radiation therapy. It is important to take proper nutrition including protein and drinking enough fluids to maintain your strength and weight while getting the treatment. You might also have a loss of appetite and change in taste. And, radiation therapy to the pelvis, stomach and abdomen can lead to diarrhea.
So, these were the side effects of radiation therapy by Dr. Tripti Saxena. Before your cancer treatment starts, you should ask the doctor as to what side effects can cause discomfort from the specific type of treatment you are receiving and when they can happen. And, during and after the radiation therapy session, let your health care expert know how you are feeling on a regular basis and if there are any side effects.
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