Common Side Effects of Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)

Radiation Therapy (or Radiotherapy) treatment uses high energy radiation (or X-rays) to kill cancer cells. The length of Radiation Therapy may range from 1 to over 30 sessions, depending on the dosage and aim of treatment. Side effects occur as healthy and normal tissue near the treatment area gets damaged as well. There are several strategies that your Radiation Oncologist can utilize to minimize this damage and manage side effects caused by Radiation Therapy. Click here to find out more.

Radiotherapy affects patients differently, with some patients experiencing milder or worse side effects even though the regime is exactly the same. Here are some common side effects experienced during radiotherapy. It is best to speak with your Radiation Oncologist to understand side effects specific to your treatment region. 

Fatigue (Tiredness | Exhaustion)

Fatigue (tiredness) is a common side effect of radiation therapy. It is a lack of energy or a feeling of exhaustion. This feeling may start right at the beginning of radiotherapy and last several weeks till after completion of radiotherapy. Some patients recover from feeling tired after the 1st week of radiation therapy. Most patients are able to continue working during the treatment but it is essential to get enough rest during the course of radiation therapy. 

Skin reactions 

External beam radiotherapy can cause skin reactions in the region being treated. This includes 

  • Skin reddening
  • Skin darkening
  • Increased skin sensitivity (itching or dryness)

It is important to take care of your skin during radiation therapy. It is recommended to wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid extreme temperatures (e.g. showering in extremely hot or cold water) during treatment. Harsh chemicals applied to the skin in the form of perfumes or soap should be avoided as well.

The experienced team of radiation therapists and your Radiation Oncologist would have products and medications to assist in managing skin reactions during radiotherapy. Please refer to this link to find out more.

Hair Loss

Another common side effect of Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy) is hair loss in the treatment region. Side effects of Radiation Therapy are highly specific to the region being treated and there will be no hair loss in other parts of your body which are not receiving treatment.

Late or Long Term Side Effects (Chronic Side Effects)

Majority of patients would recover from side effects a few weeks after the completion of radiotherapy. A minority of patients would go on to experience late or long term side effects. Long-term side effects are side effects which do not get better with treatment. Late side effects are side effects which only begin weeks or months after radiotherapy treatment.

Before beginning radiation therapy, your Radiation Oncologist will explain the risks of long-term or late side effects specific to your treatment region. If you are experiencing late or long-term side effects of radiation therapy, click here to find out more about your treatment options.