How will I feel during treatment?
Side effects of the radiotherapy can vary from person to person and can be dependent on many factors relating to the type of cancer, the area being treated, the type and number of treatments, other treatments being given alongside the radiotherapy and whether the aim is to cure or manage the cancer.
Radiotherapy side effects normally occur as the treatment progresses and normally for a few weeks after the treatment finishes. They are caused when the normal tissue in the treatment area is damaged, causing inflammation. The therapy radiographers caring for you will help you manage any radiotherapy side effects you may experience.
At the Spire Specialist Centre our use of Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) and Image Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT) techniques help to minimise the dose to the surrounding normal tissue in the treatment area, therefore helping to minimise side effects.
What side effects should I expect?
Below is a list of some common side effects from radiotherapy, you will be given more in depth information on side effects related to the area you are having treated:
Some people can experience tiredness during their course of radiotherapy. It is important to rest when necessary. Drinking plenty of fluids can also help; drink caffeinated drinks in moderation as too much caffeine can dehydrate you.
Sore or Discoloured Skin
Radiotherapy can sometimes cause a skin reaction because the radiation beam passes through the skin. Some people experience some reddening or discolouration of the skin towards the end of their treatment, others find their skin might be itchy and can sometimes break down. You will be given advice by the Therapy Radiographers on how to look after your skin during radiotherapy before you start treatment.
Radiotherapy can cause hair loss in the treatment area, this normally occurs where the radiation beam enters and exits the body. This may occur towards the end of the radiotherapy treatment. Hair may not always, but should normally grow back in the treatment area a few months after the radiotherapy has finished. Your Clinical Oncologist and Therapy Radiographer can discuss this in more detail and arrange a wig to be made if you are having your head treated.
Soreness and Difficulty Swallowing
If the mouth, throat or oesophagus is being treated some people may experience soreness or difficulty swallowing. This is due to the inflammation caused by the radiotherapy. Therapy Radiographers will be able to advise on how to manage these side effects and help with any pain management if required. Some people find it helpful to adopt a diet of softer foods, eating little and often can also be helpful, avoid foods that are particularly spicy or hot in temperature and avoid strong alcohol. A Therapy Radiographer will be able to organise dietician input if required.
Radiotherapy to the stomach can cause nausea or vomiting, it can also occur as a result of treatment to other areas of the body. Your Therapy Radiographer will be able to advise you on how to manage these symptoms and anti-sickness medication can be prescribed.
Change in Urinary or Bowel Habits
Radiotherapy to the pelvis/ abdomen area can result in some change to urinary habits; this can sometimes result in increased urinary frequency, the need to pass urine during the night, or difficulty or pain when passing urine. It is helpful to drink plenty of fluids during your treatment; the radiographers will be able to give further advice if you experience any of these symptoms. Radiotherapy to the pelvis/ abdomen can also cause diarrhoea, there is advice we can give you regarding diet and medication if required.