Some of the most common immediate side effects of radiation therapy are fatigue, hair loss, nausea, and changes in the skin, among others, more specific to cancer types. While healthy cells that are damaged during this treatment recover subsequently, within four to six weeks, however, some remain more stubborn, taking longer to improve, or worse, appear as “late effects,” months or even years after the radiation treatment.
Long-term side effects of radiation may include bowel and bladder problems, tissue hardening or fibrosis, lymphoedema or swelling in body tissues, and sexual and intimacy issues.
The nature and extent of these side effects depend on four main points – the dosage of radiation, the type of radiation, the overall health of the patient, and the part of the body that is receiving treatment.
As the side effects may vary from person to person, the general rule of thumb is to be aware of the changes that the body is going through. The following are three top tips to manage these side effects:
1. Fatigue leads in the list of side effects of radiation therapy. Often, this is accompanied by depression as well. Experts strongly recommend that patients be assessed for fatigue at regular intervals. Ways to beat this side effect is to get as much rest as possible, eat healthily, and learn ways to save energy and reduce stress.
2. Radiation therapy can cause redness of the skin, dryness, or swelling. Consult with the doctor on the right ways to treat this soreness and change to the skin, including finding out the right creams, oils, or ointments to apply. Also, choose comfortable clothing – nothing too stuffy, tight or rough on the skin. The rays of the sun can only worsen these effects, so it is best to use sunscreen or avoid the outdoors.
3. Hair loss is also a common side effect of radiation in the radiation field areas. This might be a temporary or permanent effect depending on the total radiation dose, dose per sitting & other treatments the patient is undergoing. If on the face or limbs, the care to be taken is similar to Point 2. In the case of scalps, consideration must also be taken to avoid shampoos and combing as the area will be delicate to touch as there will be significant hair loss. If the hair loss is permanent, some will resort to wigs, and others may use scarves or caps. Some people don’t have inhibitions to uncover their baldness either.
Radiation therapy as a treatment for cancer can not only destroy the tumor cells, but it could also damage healthy cells.