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Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is considered to be the most effective treatment for cancer. However, it also has some severe side effects. This write-up will concentrate on the side effects caused by radiation therapy.
Stephen Rampur
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Radiation therapy is primarily used for the treatment of cancer. It is a focused treatment which is targeted towards a particular area of the body, and involves exposure of the body's affected area to ionizing radiation, which destroys the cancerous cells. It can also be used for treating other medical conditions such as trigeminal neuralgia, severe thyroid eye disease, etc., but its use in non-malignant conditions is restricted due to the risk of cancer induced by the exposure to radiation.
Though it is an integral part of treatment when it comes to malignant growths, it does have some adverse effects. The side effects are related to that part of the body which is exposed to radiation.
Generally, the reactions occur in the span of 2-3 weeks after the treatment. If one experiences them after the treatment, he/she needs to inform the doctor about it. The type and degree of the reactions may differ from patient to patient. They may reduce or even disappear after the healing is over. When a particular area of the body is treated, there may be an irritation of the tissues which cause these reactions. The oncologist may inform you about the long-lasting side effects which can probably occur after the treatment is completed.
Side Effects of Radiotherapy
Loss of Appetite
A patient may experience loss of appetite, which can lead to nutritional inadequacies. One needs to eat at regular intervals instead of only consuming three meals a day. Eating fruits and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins, also help the body produce the needed energy. The appetite will naturally increase as the analysis is complete.
In case of people undergoing radiotherapy for cancer, especially when the radiation is directed on the patient's head, neck, or lung, insufficient production of saliva can be a problem. However, there are some medications to counter such problems, for which the doctor's consultation is necessary.
Skin Problems
The skin may become red and irritated. The skin is very sensitive and you may need to ask the doctor for special creams for treating irritated skin. Perfumes, deodorants, body lotions, tight-fitting clothes, etc., should be avoided by the patient during the course of treatment. During the treatment, one should not expose the treated skin to direct sunlight, as this may end up causing many skin complications. The skin will become normal by itself, as tissues repair themselves.
Fatigue
Most patients experience fatigue. One should have sufficient, uninterrupted sleep at night and a short nap during the day to generate and maintain ample energy, which will help throughout the day.
Hair Loss
Hair loss or thinning of hair is another side effect of this therapy. However, hair loss would occur in only those areas which are exposed. If one is being treated on the pelvis, he won't lose hair on his head, but if the head or neck is being treated, there is a very high possibility of losing hair on the head. However, the hair grows back gradually after the treatment is completed.
Low Immunity to Diseases
Radiation can decrease the quantity of White Blood Cells (WBC) in the body, thus resulting in decreased immunity level. This can make one susceptible to infections, which are otherwise prevented by the WBCs. If needed, the treatment may be modified depending on the WBC count of the patient.
Besides the aforementioned effects, there are many other things which need to be discussed with the doctor in detail before the treatment commences. Nevertheless, some of the side effects get resolved after the successful completion of the therapy.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.