Radiation side effects can depend on the type of cancer, the location, the radiation dose, and the overall health of the person undergoing radiation treatment. Some people experience no ill effects while others experience a wide range of associated issues. Knowing what to expect during radiation treatment can help you prepare for—and maybe even prevent—many of the possible side effects.
Radiation Treatment Side Effects
Radiation treatment can cause a range of side effects. Short-term radiation treatment side effects include fatigue, nausea, and skin irritation. But radiation treatment can also cause more long term effects months or years later. Always talk to your radiation oncologist about the risk of both short-term and long-term side effects.
Fatigue is a common side effect of radiation treatment. Radiation treatments destroy some healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. Fatigue usually gets worse as treatment goes on. Signs of extreme fatigue include:
Doesn’t get better, keeps coming back, or gets worse.
More tired than usual during or after an activity.
Feeling tired, and it’s not related to something you’ve done.
Confused or can’t focus your thoughts.
Can’t get out of bed for more than 24 hours.
Disrupts your social life or daily routine.
Radiation can damage the skin in the areas of treatment. The skin in these areas can become red, irritated, swollen, blistered, sunburned, or tanned. After a few weeks, your skin might become dry, flaky, or itchy, or it may peel.
Be protective of the area of damage. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen when going outside. Avoid tight fitting clothes or rough fabrics. Avoid hot water during bathing and don’t use heating pads or ice packs. And be aware of everything that you put on your skin including lotions, soaps, perfumes, oils, etc.
Radiation treatment can cause hair loss, but only in the area directly treated. The hair in the affected area usually grows back after treatment ends, but it may grow back thinner or more brittle. You will want to protect the area of hair loss from the sun, especially if on the head.
Low Blood Counts
Radiation can cause low white blood cell or platelet counts. These blood cells help fight infection and prevent bleeding. If your blood counts become lower, your doctor will probably pause treatment until your counts return to normal.
Radiation treatment to the mouth, throat, or digestive system can cause mouth or throat sores, nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite. Getting nutrition into the body is still very important, so switching to a liquid diet of nutrient dense foods can help.
Prevent Radiation Treatment Side Effects
There are some radio-protective drugs that can be given before radiation treatment to protect certain normal tissues. Talk with your doctor about any available options.
There is research to suggest that taking probiotics before radiation treatment can help protect the lining of the gut from damage which can cause diarrhea, pain, bloating, cramping, excess mucus and even bleeding. Use a high quality probiotic and eat fermented foods for best results.
Sulfur has a long history of use as an antidote for acute exposure to radioactive material. A Japanese study showed that even low concentrations of DMSO, a sulfur compound, had radio-protective effects through the facilitation of DNA double-strand break repair, providing protection against radiation damage at all cellular levels in the whole body.
Taking care of yourself during radiation treatment can help with symptoms. Make sure to get plenty of rest. Eat a healthy nutritious diet. Make sure your doctors know about all medications you are using to make sure there are no conflicts. Take special care of sensitive skin areas after treatment. Take care of yourself emotionally as well. Finding a support group of people dealing with the same situation may help.
Knowing what to expect during radiation treatment ahead of time will help you to not only ask your doctor the right questions, but to also prepare to deal with and even prevent some of these possible side effects.
This information is not medical advice and is certainly not intended to replace the advice or attention of your personal physician or other healthcare professional. Therefore, consult your doctor or healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or starting a supplement program.
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