Radiation Therapy For Cancer

What should I expect after having radiation therapy for cancer?

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  • AHealthwise answered

    Recovery depends on the tumor site, the stage and grade of the cancer, and the amount of healthy tissue that is affected during treatment. Damage to normal cells during radiation therapy may cause side effects.

    Skin changes

    Skin changes are common with radiation therapy. The skin in the area of your body that is getting radiation may turn red and tender, itch, peel or blister. Toward the end of treatment, the skin may become moist and "weepy." These effects are temporary, and the area will gradually heal when treatment is completed. You may notice a slight change in the color of the skin.

    Good skin care is important during radiation therapy. And you should check with your doctor before using any deodorants, lotions or creams on the treated area. To care for your skin:

    • Use lukewarm water for showers or quick baths. Pat yourself dry with a soft towel, being careful not to rub off any ink marks that are used for your radiation.
    • Avoid putting heating pads or cold packs or anything that is hot or cold on this skin.
    • Wear soft cotton clothes that are loose on your body.
    • Protect your skin from the sun by staying out of the sun and wearing a hat with a wide brim, long sleeved-shirts and long pants when you are outdoors. Talk to your doctor about wearing sunscreen.


    Fatigue is a common side effect of radiation therapy. It is a sense of tiredness that doesn't seem to go away, even with rest or sleep. Some people may only have mild fatigue. For others, fatigue may be a bigger problem. It may last from 6 weeks to a year after your last radiation treatment.

    Staying active can lift your mood and help you feel better. It can also help reduce problems with anemia during treatment. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day. Walking with a friend can help you keep a routine.

    Be patient. It can take time to fully recover. Balancing rest with activity is important. Try to match your activities to your energy levels.

    Throat changes

    Radiation to the neck or chest can irritate the lining of your throat and esophagus. It may be hard to swallow, and you may feel like you have a lump in your throat or a burning feeling in your throat or chest. You may also develop a cough.

    Having both radiation and chemotherapy can make this worse. So can smoking or drinking alcohol during the time you are getting radiation therapy. These symptoms usually go away within a month after radiation treatment is completed.

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. To learn more visit

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