Common Side Effects of Radiotherapy and Solutions
Radiotherapy, also known as radiation therapy, is an effective cancer treatment that kills cancer cells and shrinks tumors in the body. Yet, it can cause temporary damage to healthy cells, which is why people can experience various side effects.
Patients will often experience different side effects, which could be determined by the site of the radiation, their health, the required dose, and many more factors. Here are the common side effects of radiotherapy and the helpful solutions available.
Many patients often experience fatigue during radiotherapy. The level of tiredness or exhaustion you feel will likely depend on the treatment plan. For example, you’re more likely to experience fatigue if you require both radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Rest is essential when undertaking radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Ensure you’re never too far away from a chair, give yourself extra time to reach a destination, and ensure you relax your mind and body before and after treatment. If possible, moderate-intensity exercise could naturally increase your energy levels.
Some patients who have received radiotherapy have experienced various skin changes, such as:
Any skin changes you experience will likely disappear a few weeks after treatment. Talk to your doctor about the right lotion for your skin if you experience any of the above complaints. Also, you must shield the affected skin from the sun to prevent further discomfort or damage.
Head and Neck Side Effects
As stated, the location of the radiotherapy can result in site-specific side effects. For example, people living with throat cancer might experience a swallowing difficulty known as dysphagia, which will make eating or drinking uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Yet, there are instant food thickeners available from Simply Thick to make the everyday activity much easier, and they will allow you to enjoy food and drink safely.
Other head and neck side effects you might experience include:
- Dry mouth
- Jaw stiffness
- Hair loss
- A swelling called lymphedema
- Tooth decay
- Mouth and gum sores
Palliative care can help ease some of the above symptoms for patients to make radiotherapy more manageable. It is also important to visit your dentist to care for your oral health before, during, and after treatment.
Chest Side Effects
If you require radiotherapy on your chest, you might also experience swallowing difficulties, which you can ease with an instant food thickener. Also, you may experience shortness of breath, nipple or breast soreness, a cough, chest fullness, or shoulder stiffness.
A breast nurse will likely provide helpful chest exercises or prescribe a soothing moisturizing cream or medication to ease pain, stiffness, soreness, or sickness.
Stomach and Abdomen Side Effects
People receiving radiotherapy on or near their stomach or abdomen might experience:
- Bowel cramping
- A loss of appetite
- Diarrhea or loose stools
If you experience any of the above side effects, a doctor can prescribe medication to manage them. Also, it might help to make various changes to your diet to decrease the symptoms, such as eating six small meals per day, sucking on mints, or chewing gum.
Everyone will react differently to radiotherapy treatment, but side effects typically start during the second or third week. Your treatment team can provide a more detailed understanding of what you can expect for your specific plan and the solutions available to help you manage various symptoms.