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What Are The Most Common Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy

Stiff Joints And Muscles

What Are the Side Effects of Radiation Treatment?

Radiotherapy can sometimes make your joints and muscles in the area being treated feel stiff, swollen and uncomfortable.

Exercising and stretching regularly can help to prevent stiffness.

Tell your care team if joint or muscle stiffness a problem. They may refer you to a physiotherapist, who can recommend exercises for you to try.

If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Chest

Radiation treatment to the chest may cause side effects such as:

Radiation can also cause other problems in the heart or lungs.

Heart complications

Getting radiation to the middle portion of the chest can raise your risk of heart disease. This risk increases with higher radiation doses and larger treatment areas in this part of your body. Radiation can also cause hardening of the arteries , heart valve damage, or irregular heartbeats.

Radiation pneumonitis

Radiation pneumonitis is inflammation of the lungs that can be caused by radiation treatment to the chest . It may occur about 3 to 6 months after getting radiation therapy. Its more likely if you have other lung diseases, like emphysema . Common symptoms of radiation pneumonitis include:

  • Shortness of breath that usually gets worse with exercise
  • Chest pain, which is often worse when taking in a deep breath

Sometimes there are no symptoms, and radiation pneumonitis is found on a chest x-ray.

Symptoms often go away on their own, but if treatment is needed, it is based on trying to decrease the inflammation. Steroids, like prednisone, are usually used. With treatment, most people recover without any lasting effects. But if it persists, it can lead to pulmonary fibrosis . When this happens, the lungs can no longer fully inflate and take in air.

Be sure you understand what to look for, and tell your cancer care team if you notice any of these side effects.

Mouth And Throat Changes

Radiation therapy to the head and neck can cause mouth changes. Radiation not only kills cancer cells but can also harm healthy cells in the glands that make saliva and the moist lining of your mouth. You may have:

  • Loss/change in taste
  • Thickened saliva

Some problems, like mouth sores, may go away after treatment ends. Others, such as taste changes, may last for months or even years. Some problems, such as dry mouth, may get better but never go away.

Mouth Care After Radiation

Your Throat

Radiation therapy to the neck or chest can cause the lining of your throat to become swollen and sore. Your risk for throat changes depends on how much radiation you are getting, whether you are also having chemotherapy, and whether you use tobacco and alcohol while getting radiation therapy. You may notice throat changes in 23 weeks after starting radiation. These will likely get better 46 weeks after you have finished treatment.

Nutrition During Head, Neck or Chest Radiation

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How Are Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy Diagnosed And Treated

  • Your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and decide if they are side effects of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy may prevent the bone marrow from making red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This may cause low blood counts. Low blood counts are diagnosed with a blood test.
  • Treatment depends on what area of the body is affected. You may be given medicine to treat nausea, vomiting, indigestion, or diarrhea. You may also be given medicine to treat problems in the mouth, or pain in the area that receives radiation. Lotions, ointments, or creams may be given to treat skin problems caused by radiation therapy.

What Is Radiation Recall

Pin on Chi chi cancer

Radiation recall is a rash that looks like a severe sunburn. It is rare but it can happen when certain types of chemotherapy are given during or soon after external-beam radiation therapy.

The rash appears on the part of the body that received radiation therapy. Symptoms may include redness, tenderness, swelling, wet sores, and peeling skin.

Typically, these effects start within days or weeks of starting radiation therapy. But they can also appear months or years later. Doctors treat radiation recall with medications called corticosteroids. Rarely, it may be necessary to wait until the skin heals to continue with chemotherapy.

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What Are Side Effects

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the two most common types of cancer treatment. They work by destroying these fast-growing cells. But other types of fast-growing healthy cells also can be damaged along with cancer cells, causing adverse reactions, or side effects.

Side effects can range from tiredness and nausea to hair loss and blood clotting problems. Because each person responds a little differently to treatment and it’s hard for doctors to predict exactly how the body will react, they’ll closely watch someone who is being treated for cancer. Doctors weigh the amount and severity of side effects against the benefits of treatments.

Fortunately, most side effects are temporary. As the body’s normal cells recover, these problems start to go away. There are also good supportive treatments that can lessen the side effects.

Side effects vary:

  • Some can be merely unpleasant, while others can be much more serious.
  • Some show up right away, while others develop over time.
  • Some teens have just a few, while others have many over the course of treatment.

Coping Tips During Radiation Therapy

A few tips can also help make the period during which the patient receives radiation therapy less inconvenient and uncomfortable. We share a few tips to keep in mind below:

  • Sleep helps with recovery and becomes even more important during this stage. The patient should ensure they get enough sleep on a daily basis.
  • A well-balanced diet that is not too high in fiber is also a good idea. Make sure dishes consumed contain a variety of vegetables and other sources of crucial vitamins and minerals.
  • Physical activity should also be important, as this further helps to keep the immune system strong.

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What Is Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is used as a treatment for various types of cancer and relies on concentrated beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells. How this is accomplished is entirely dependent on the type of radiation therapy being used. Here are three types of radiation therapy:

  • External beam radiation uses a machine that precisely targets the cancer cells with radiation beams capable of penetrating the body.
  • Internal radiation therapy is often referred to as brachytherapy. This targeting occurs internally using a doctor-placed implant near the cancer site. This implant could be a tube, a wire, a capsule, a seed, or a pellet.
  • Systemic radiation therapy happens internally as well, although the process is different. With this application, the patient is often asked to swallow or is injected with a radioactive substance that then travels through the body to find and destroy cancer cells.

The cancer type, stage, size, and location all factor into a doctors approach to radiation therapy, although each of the three applications shares a similar goal.

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  • How To Cope With The Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy

    What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

    contributed by Annette Schork, RN, BSN, OCN, CBCN, Cancer AnswerLine

    Radiation therapy treats cancer by using high energy to kill tumor cells. Many people who get radiation therapy have skin changes and some fatigue. Side effects vary from person to person depend on the radiation dose, and the part of the body being treated. Some patients have no side effects at all, while others have quite a few. There is no way to predict who will have side effects.

    Skin changes may include dryness, itching, peeling, or blistering. These changes occur because radiation therapy damages healthy skin cells in the treatment area.

    Fatigue is often described as feeling worn out or exhausted.

    If you have bad side effects, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while, change the schedule, or change the type of treatment you are getting.

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    How To Lower Your Risk

    You can do a number of things in addition to the precautions your healthcare provider takes to reduce your risk of long term complications related to radiation therapy.

    • Don’t smoke, as smoking increases the risk of lung cancer after chest radiation.
    • Talk to your practitioner about any new respiratory symptoms that may suggest radiation pneumonitis.
    • Ask about clinical trials designed to reduce the risk of late effects of radiation.
    • If you will be having chest radiation, ask if respiratory gating is available.
    • Ask your healthcare provider about physical therapy if your movements are restricted. Physical therapy can’t rid your body of permanent scarring but can often improve flexibility and mobility.

    Initial Signs And Symptoms Of Radiation Exposure

    The underlying signs and side effects of treatable radiation affliction are typically sickness and vomiting. The amount of exposure time and when these side effects start showing is a sign of how much radiation an individual has absorbed.

    After the first round of signs and side effects, an individual with radiation might have a brief period with no obvious ailment, trailed by the beginning of new, more genuine side effects.

    Assuming that youve had a mild exposure, it might take more than just a few days or weeks before any signs and side effects start. With extreme exposure, symptoms and side effects can begin from minutes to days.

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    What Do I Need To Know About Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy

    The side effects of radiation therapy depend on the area of the body that receives radiation. Early side effects happen shortly after you receive radiation therapy. Late side effects can happen months to years after you receive radiation therapy. Late side effects of radiation therapy may be permanent.

    Mouth And Throat Problems

    One of the most common side effects of radiation therapy is a skin ...

    Radiation treatment can give you a sore or dry mouth or throat and your voice may become hoarse, especially if you are receiving treatment to the head and neck region.

    Try some of these ideas:

    • suck on ice blocks
    • dunk dry biscuits in tea
    • blend foods and eat soups and ice creams
    • ask your dentist, doctor or nurse about artificial saliva
    • if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation and avoid spirits

    If you are having radiation treatment to your mouth, your teeth will be more likely to decay. Discuss dental care with your doctor and dentist before your treatment starts, so any dental work can be arranged before your radiation treatment begins.

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    Causes And Risk Factors

    Radiation therapy works by damaging DNA in cells. This damage isn’t isolated to cancer cells, though normal cells can be damaged as well. While radiation therapy has improved significantly such that less damage occurs to healthy cells than in the past, some healthy tissues are inevitably exposed.

    Several variables can increase or decrease your risk of developing long-term side effects of radiotherapy. Some of these are:

    • Your age at the time of radiation
    • The dose of radiation you receive
    • The number of treatment sessions
    • The type of cancer treated
    • The area of the body that receives radiation
    • Other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy
    • Other health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes

    Head And Neck Radiation

    Radiation treatment of head and neck tumors cause some side effects. Dry mouth is caused because the glands that make saliva are in the area of radiation. Saliva can become thick and you may have less saliva. The decrease in saliva can cause a greater chance for cavities in the teeth. You will need to be seen by a dentist before starting treatment. The dentist may need to remove any teeth that might give you problems. The dentist may also make molds for use with fluoride treatments to prevent cavities. It is very important you follow all of the dentists recommendations. Newer techniques of radiation delivery can minimize some of these side effects. It may be helpful for your dentist to speak with your radiation oncologist before any dental work is done, during or after the period of treatment.

    What can be done about the side effects?

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    Skin Cancer Treatment Effects

    Radiation treatment affects only a small area of skin and will not make you feel unwell. For a few weeks after treatment, the treated skin will be red and inflamed. During this time it will look as though the treatment has made things worse rather than better. Try not to be worried about this.

    After a few weeks the area will dry up and form a crust or scab. Over another week or so the scab will peel away, leaving healed new skin underneath. It is important not to pick at the scab. At first, the new skin will look pinker than the skin around it.

    Treatment Areas And Possible Side Effects

    Radiation Treatment: Managing Your Side Effects
    Part of the body being treated Possible side effects

    Healthy cells that are damaged during radiation treatment usually recover within a few months after treatment is over. But sometimes people may have side effects that do not improve. Other side effects may show up months or years after radiation therapy is over. These are called late effects. Whether you might have late effects, and what they might be, depends on the part of your body that was treated, other cancer treatments you’ve had, genetics, and other factors, such as smoking.Ask your doctor or nurse which late effects you should watch for. See the section on Late Effects to learn more.

    • Reviewed:January 11, 2022

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    Skin Irritation Due To Radiation Therapy

    To care for your skin in the treatment area:

    • Dont wear elastic, or clothing that is tight or made of rough fabric.
    • Dont rub or scratch the treated area.
    • Dont put heat or cold such as a heating pad or ice pack on the treatment area without talking to your care team first. Even hot water may hurt, so showering in lukewarm water may be best.
    • Do cover the treated area when youre outside. Ask your cancer care team about using sunscreen, and if they advise it, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 50, and re-apply it often. Continue to protect your skin from sunlight, even after your treatment ends.
    • Dont shave the treated area until youve checked with your cancer care team.
    • Do ask your cancer care team before using anything including lotions, powders, perfumes, and deodorant on your skin in the treatment area. Many skin products can leave a coating on the skin that can cause irritation, and some may even affect the dose of radiation that enters the body.

    Weve put together informational flyers with suggestions for coping with several of the most common side-effects of radiation. To download one, just click on the title below:

    Radiation Therapy For Prostate Cancer

    Multiple treatments have been developed to assist in treating cancer. The idea of these treatment options is to destroy the cells that have become cancerous, hoping to shrink a cancer tumor and prevent the spreading of these harmful cells.

    Radiation treatment is used to target specific areas of the body. Whether radiation treatment will be used alone or with other treatments depends on the stage and location of cancer.

    If the patient has low-grade prostate cancer and it is confined only to this gland, then radiation therapy alone may yield effective results.

    In cases where cancer spreads outside of the gland and affects tissue in the surrounding region, radiation therapy is often combined with hormone therapy.

    There are other scenarios where radiation therapy may be used as a defensive mechanism against prostate cancer. The cancer type that the patient has in the prostate matters here.

    In cases where a man undergoes surgery for prostate cancer and the disease returns, radiation therapy may effectively eliminate the cancerous cells without needing another surgical procedure.

    Radiation treatment can also assist in reducing the spread of cancer when it becomes metastatic while helping the patient experience a relief of the symptoms caused by the cancerous disease.

    There are different types of radiation therapy available for men with prostate cancer. This includes external beam radiation, as well as brachytherapy, which refers to internal radiation.

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    Radiation Therapy And Sun Exposure

    During radiation treatment, its best to keep the treated area completely out of the sun. This can be especially difficult if youre having radiation therapy in areas or seasons with warmer weather. To help avoid sun exposure:

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      Wear clothing or a bathing suit with a high neckline, or wear a rash guard top.

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      Try to keep the area covered whenever you go outside. An oversized cotton shirt works well and allows air to circulate around the treated area.

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      Avoid chlorine, which is very drying and can make any skin reactions youre having worse. Chlorine is used to disinfect most pools and hot tubs.

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      If you do want to swim in a pool, you might want to spread petroleum jelly on the treated area to keep the chlorine away from your skin.

    After your radiation treatment is completed, the treated skin may be more sensitive to the sun than it was in the past, so you might need to take extra protective steps when you go out in the sun:

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