While eliminating the cancer cells in a person’s body, radiation often also ends up harming the normal cells in a person’s body that are in the area receiving radiation treatment. The result of radiation treatment is, as a result, a wide range of side effects. The exact side effects that a person ends up facing depend on the section of a person’s body that is being treated in combination with other factors like how much radiation dosage is given.
Fortunately, some people do not end up encountering any negative side effects from radiation treatment. Other people end up having few side effects. If you develop a substantial side effect from your radiation, your medical team might want to give you a temporary reprieve from treatment. Some side effects routinely happen despite the section of a person’s body that receives radiation treatment. Some of the most common side effects that people end up experiencing due to radiation treatment include skin reaction, fatigue, loss of appetite, and ulcers.
How You Should Approach Side Effects
You should make sure to review the side effects that you end up encountering with your medical team. Your medical team will be able to offer some ways that you can deal with side effects as well as what you can do to lessen the severity of these side effects, which often will resolve during the days to weeks that you finish radiation therapy. Remember, your oncologist is often the primary coordinator of your treatment. This is why you should make sure to ask them any questions you have regarding your disease’s status or the kind of treatments that you are receiving. Because coordinating your treatment is so important, the need for you to have someone who is acquainted with your issues is critical because that person will end up being the primary contact to all of your treating doctors regardless of whether they are oncologists, surgeons, or specialized doctors like cardiologists. These additional doctors often play a valuable role in making sure that you keep up and improve your health as well as your quality of life. Your medical oncologist or surgical oncologist must be the individual who helps you navigate this complex process, though. This is because the training of these doctors is more widespread in appreciating the issues and needs of cancer patients throughout treatment. This is yet another reason why you should make sure to find an oncologist as well as other medical professionals who you trust and who will make themselves available when necessary to answer any questions that you might have. For people who live a substantial distance from where they receive primary treatment, your local internist can help with some coordination of treatment, but the internist must be in close contact with the office of your primary oncologist so no uncertainty exists regarding your treatment plan as well as what you require for follow-up care.
Overcome Side Effects with the Right Attitude
To make sure that you progress through radiation and other cancer treatment in the best shape possible, you must be proactive in playing a role in making sure that issues do not end up falling by the wayside. Keeping up a positive approach and remaining actively engaged in your care are two of the best strategies to utilize in your fight against mesothelioma. Some of the other helpful strategies that you should keep up during this difficult time include exercising as much as you can, keeping up a good diet, and remaining vigilant about issues connected to side effects.
The Most Common Side Effects People Experience During Radiation Treatment
Several side effects occur regardless of the type of cancer that a person ends up facing. Some of these side effects include:
- Fatigue involves feeling tired whether it’s a person’s mental, emotional, or physical condition. Fatigue impacts individuals with cancer and can arise during radiation treatment as well as chemotherapy. Individuals often start to feel tired in the weeks following radiation therapy. This experience occurs because radiation treatment destroys healthy cells while attempting to remove cancer cells from the body. Fatigue often only increases as a person receives additional radiation. The stress associated with having cancer can only further increase the fatigue that a person ends up experiencing. Addressing fatigue is a critical part of receiving care for many people. The fatigue that people experience during treatment for radiation differs vastly from the fatigue of daily life. Fatigue associated with radiation treatment sometimes does not improve with rest and can end up greatly disrupting your life. Fortunately, fatigue created by radiation treatment often disappears over time. When you report the fatigue you’re experiencing to your medical team, you can describe your fatigue ranging from none to severe or you might decide to use a 1 to 10 number scale. Make sure to talk to your medical team if your fatigue does not improve, your fatigue returns, your fatigue grows worse, you are more tired than usual when you perform an activity, you are feeling tired and it is not connected to anything you did, you become confused, you cannot get out of bed for over 24 hours, or your fatigue interferes with your daily life.
- Skin issues. Your skin throughout radiation treatment might be irritated, peeling, or swollen. In the weeks following treatment, your skin might begin to flake or itch. This is referred to as radiation dermatitis and it is critical to let your medical team know about this and any other skin issues you experience. Your medical team can suggest various strategies to ease the discomfort and irritation of your skin. These issues often go away gradually following the end of treatment. To minimize problems during treatment, you should remember to follow some important pieces of advice during treatment regarding your skin. Some skin safety advice you should follow include not wearing tight clothing over the area being treated, not rubbing or scratching the impacted area, not placing sources of heat or cold on the area, protecting the area from the sun, and using only soap and lukewarm water when cleaning, receiving permission from your medical team before shaving the area, and asking your medical team before placing any substances like cream or lotion on your skin.
- Hair loss. Radiation therapy can result in your hair becoming thinned or lost in the part of your body that is being treated. Radiation you receive to your head for instance can end up in you losing all the hair on your head. If you receive treatment for your stomach, however, you will not lose the hair on your head. People often think that their hair will return to normal following the end of treatment, but this is not always the case and it can be difficult to keep up with hair loss. When a person’s hair does grow back, your hair might be thinner or different in texture than it was before treatment. If you end up losing your hair due to treatment, your scalp might become tender in which case you should make sure to adequately protect your head if you go out into the sun.
- Low blood counts. Sometimes radiation therapy results in changes in a person’s blood count. Blood cells help the body combat infection as well as control bleeding. If your blood tests reveal low blood counts, your treatment might be stopped for a week or longer so your blood counts can return to their usual level. This side effect is most common when a person is also receiving chemotherapy.
Drugs Utilized to Treat Radiation Side Effects
One of the most proven and successful methods that patients can use to treat side effects connected to radiation treatment is the use of radioprotective drugs. This medication, however, is only utilized for certain kinds of radiation given to certain body parts. This medication is given shortly before treatments occur to guard healthy tissues in the area surrounding the section being treated. One of the most commonly utilized types of drugs is amifostine, which is used in people who have head and neck cancer. Amifostine is helpful in reducing side effects related to the mouth that arise during radiation treatment. Not all medical providers agree on how to utilize radiation therapy.
Side Effects Associated with Radiation Treatment of Certain Body Parts
The body part that you end up having treated with radiation can end up directly influencing the side effects that you end up facing. Some of the most commonly treated body parts and resulting side effects include:
- The brain. Individuals with brain tumors are often given radiation in one big dose if the cancer is located in either one or several spots in the brain. Due to the complexities of the brain, the side effects a person ends up facing depend on where the radiation beam is focused. While some side effects appear quickly, others might take time to appear. Some of the most common side effects when radiation is focused on your brain include hair loss, vomiting, nausea, skin changes, and seizures. Some of these side effects occur because radiation causes swelling of the brain. Medications are given to reduce swelling of the brain, but it is critical to let your medical team learn about any symptoms you’re experiencing.
- Head or neck. Individuals who receive head or neck radiation often end up experiencing side effects like nausea, dry mouth, earaches, tooth decay, hair loss, skin changes, and jaw stiffness. If you receive radiation therapy to your head or neck, you should make sure to adequately care for your teeth as well as your gums and mouth. Some of the strategies you should follow to keep your mouth healthy include avoiding difficult and spicy food, not eating hot or cold food, not smoking, asking your medical team to recommend an appropriate mouthwash, and asking your medical team to recommend medication to treat mouth sores and pain brought on by eating. You might end up facing mouth dryness even long after treatment has concluded. Radiation can also elevate your chances of having cavities. As a result, before you receive radiation treatment, your team might recommend that you receive a complete check-up from your dentist.
- The breast. If you receive radiation to the breast, this can end up disrupting your heart and lungs in addition to other side effects. Some of the most common side effects caused by radiation to the breast include soreness, dryness, or swelling. Radiation treatment can result in long-term breast changes including changes in color, the size of your pores, and sensitivity. Breast radiation can end up harming surrounding organs including your lungs and heart. Sometimes, radiation treatment also ends up weakening a person’s bones and causing rib fractures. A person should make sure to bring up any sensitivity or bone pain brought on by treatment to that person’s medical team.
- The chest. When a person receives radiation to the chest, that individual might end up encountering certain side effects including esophageal inflammation. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach. Esophageal can be particularly unpleasant and last even after treatment has ended. Another common side effect of receiving radiation to a person’s lungs is pneumonitis or an infection of the lungs. Nausea is also a common concurrence for people who end up receiving radiation to the chest. Make sure to mention to your medical team the severity of nausea you are experiencing. Various medications can be prescribed to address the nausea that people experience during radiation treatment as well as chemotherapy.
- The stomach. If you receive radiation to the stomach, you might end up experiencing side effects like vomiting, nausea, belly cramps, constipation, or diarrhea. Being cautious about what you can help to avoid these problems. Your medical team might be able to recommend home remedies you can utilize to treat these problems. Some people end up feeling nauseous soon after receiving radiation, while for others it takes longer to notice side effects after radiation to the stomach. Some people find they handle treatment better while on an empty stomach. If your problems do not go away after radiation treatment has ended, you should ask your team how to address side effects like nausea. Diarrhea is also a common occurrence for people experiencing radiation to the stomach. Some of the changes you can make to your diet that can help to address diarrhea include trying a clear liquid diet as soon as diarrhea starts, not eating foods high in fiber, eating frequent and small meals, and not eating products that irritate your bowels.
- The pelvis. If you receive radiation to the pelvis, it can end up causing side effects like difficulty with fertility, bladder problems, and changes in your sex drive. You might also have some of the same challenges that people experience from radiation to the abdomen. Radiation to the pelvis often leads to difficulty with urination including burning sensations, blood in the urine, and trouble passing urine. Radiation therapy can result in longer-lasting side effects as well including radiation cystitis if the radiation damages the bladder’s lining. Radiation cystitis involves blood in the urine. Radiation treatment can also result in difficulty controlling your urine. Various degrees of incontinence can occur. Even if incontinence cannot be promptly corrected, various things can still help to address this condition. In rare cases involving radiation that is focused on a person’s body can result in a fistula forming between organs located in the pelvis including the vagina and bladder or between the bladder and rectum. This condition can be remedied with surgery.
How Long You Can Expect to End Up Facing Side Effects
The kind of side effects you end up experiencing from radiation are often influenced by dosage. Many side effects end up disappearing within months after treatment. Other side effects end up lasting after treatment because your cells require time to recover and become healthy again. These side effects can end up hampering your ability to perform many tasks. Some people find themselves able to return to work and the rest of their schedule shortly after they receive radiation, while other people discover that they require more rest than usual and cannot do as much. If you experience side effects that disrupt your daily life during treatment, your medical team might temporarily stop treatments or change your schedule.
Some side effects occur either during or soon after treatment. These side effects are most often mild, short-term, and capable of being treated. Some side effects like fatigue impact your whole body, while other side effects are connected to the area being treated.
Other side effects take weeks, months, or years to show up. These side effects can happen in any healthy tissue in the body that has received radiation. The possibility that you end up facing these long-term side effects will depend on factors like the area you’re having treated. Cautious treatment planning is the best method to avoid the most serious lasting side effects.