Radiation therapy is a common treatment for cancer, but it can come with a range of side effects. Headache, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, hearing loss, skin and scalp changes, memory and speech problems are all potential side effects of radiation therapy. Hair loss is a common side effect of radiation therapy, but it only affects the area being treated. It may be permanent if you receive a high dose of radiation therapy.
Fatigue and weight loss can also occur due to radiation therapy. Diarrhea is another common side effect in the abdominal or pelvic area. The treated breast may also be rough to the touch, red (like a sunburn), swollen, and itchy. Skin sensitivity can be reduced during radiation treatment and also help the skin heal after completing radiation treatment.
Before undergoing external-beam radiation therapy, your healthcare team will guide you through a planning process to ensure that the radiation reaches the precise point in your body where it's needed. During brachytherapy, radiation is applied inside the body. During external beam radiation therapy, you are placed on a table and a large machine moves around you sending beams of radiation to precise points on your body. The radiation therapy team will decide what type of radiation and what dose you will receive based on the type and stage of your cancer, your general health, and treatment goals.
Fatigue from cancer and radiation therapy is different from other times when you may have felt tired. In rare cases, a new cancer (second primary cancer) may develop that is different from the first one treated with radiation years later. To help combat tiredness from radiation therapy, it's important to get plenty of rest and eat healthy meals. Talk to your care team if you find it difficult to cope with hair loss or any other side effects of radiation therapy.
Medications are available to help relieve symptoms such as diarrhea.