Cancer radiation treatment is a type of therapy that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. It is a common form of cancer treatment, and it can have both short-term and long-term side effects. The most common initial side effects are fatigue and skin changes, while late side effects can take months or even years to appear. External-beam radiation therapy is usually done with a linear accelerator, a machine that directs beams of high-energy radiation into the body.
During this type of radiation therapy, you are placed on a table and the machine moves around you sending beams of radiation to precise points on your body. This process is preceded by a planning process to ensure that the radiation reaches the exact point in your body where it's needed. Brachytherapy is another type of radiation treatment, where radiation is applied inside the body. After the planning process, the radiation therapy team decides 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.
The treated area may be rough to the touch, red (like a sunburn), swollen, and itchy. In some cases, the skin can peel off as if it had been burned by the radiation. Your doctor may suggest special creams to relieve this discomfort. You may also experience hair loss and mouth problems when radiation therapy is given to this area.
Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer radiation treatment. Your fatigue from cancer and radiation therapy is different from other times when you may have felt tired. With any standard radiation therapy, you won't be radioactive when you leave the radiation treatment center. There are several things you can do to help reduce skin sensitivity during radiation treatment and also to help the skin heal after completing radiation treatment. In rare circumstances, a new cancer (second primary cancer) may develop that is different from the first one treated with radiation years later.