Many types of cancer are treated by radiation therapy using high energy waves. Radiation therapy destroys the cancer cells. Since radiation therapy can also kill the surrounding normal and healthy tissues it can lead to side effects. The side effects vary from person to person. In some there are few or no side effects, whereas they are severe in some. The side effects depend on the type of cancer, its location, dose and type of radiation therapy and overall general health.There are two types of side effects early and late. Early side effects do not last long and get better within a few weeks after the treatment is over. Late side effects may present over a period of years and are often permanent. One of the most common early side effects is nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, feeling tired all the time,feeling completely worn out can cause physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Skin reactions like dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling and loss of hair can occur depending upon the part of body receiving radiation therapy. Other side effects are site specific like if a person is receiving radiotherapy to head and/or neck one may have mouth sores, dry mouth, jaw stiffness, difficulty in swallowing. Radiation to the chest may cause breast or nipple soreness, shoulder stiffness, difficulty in swallowing, cough, fever, fullness of chest (radiation pnemonitis) and swelling (edema).
Radiation therapy aimed at the pelvis may cause these side effects-diarrhea, rectal bleeding, incontinence, bladder irritation,sexual and fertility problems in men and women. Late side effects depend on whether you had any other cancer treatments, genetics, smoking but everyone does not have them. With the advancement of radiotherapy techniques, these side effects are minimal nowadays. One should discuss with your radiation oncologist what side effects to expect.Often these side effects can be managed with medication. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, music, yoga and meditation may help.