Radiation Therapy Side Effects

Our staff plan treatments carefully to minimize radiation therapy side effects

Radiation therapy can damage normal cells as well as cancer cells, so our radiation oncologists plan treatments very carefully to minimize side effects.

The most common side effects of external-beam radiation therapy include:

  • changes to the skin and hair in the area being treated
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite

In most cases, these effects are temporary, but you should tell your doctor or nurse about them so that you can be evaluated.

Some side effects of external-beam radiation therapy are specific to where the radiation is given.

  • Radiation therapy to the head and neck may cause dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, mouth and gum sores, or stiffness in the jaw.
  • Radiation therapy to the chest may result in shortness of breath, breast or nipple soreness, or shoulder stiffness.
  • Radiation delivered to the abdomen may cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, while radiation to the pelvis can cause rectal bleeding, incontinence, and sexual problems.

Side effects of brachytherapy are similar to those seen with external-beam radiation therapy, although they are usually less intense. In addition, you may experience swelling, bruising, or bleeding where the seeds were implanted. These side effects usually subside within a few days after treatment is finished.

Regardless of the type of therapy, our doctors and nurses are very experienced in helping you manage any side effects that may arise. Ask your care team about possible side effects before your treatment begins.