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What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

The goal of radiation is to kill as much cancer as possible while preserving normal tissue. However, there can still be adverse side effects. The side effects of radiation therapy depend on:
  • The type of radiation therapy
  • The dose of radiation
  • The part of the body that is being treated
Here are examples of possible side effects:
  • Red, dry and tender skin at treatment site
  • Hair loss in the treated area
  • Fatigue
  • Radiation to the abdomen may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Radiation to the pelvic region may cause infertility.
  • Radiation to the chest and neck may cause dry, sore throat and some trouble swallowing.
  • Salivary gland damage
  • Stiff joints from fibrosis (a buildup of scar tissue at the treatment site) 
If you are going to get radiation therapy, it's important to speak with your doctor beforehand about the possible side effects so that you know what to expect. Potential side effects of radiation therapy for colon and rectal cancer can include:
Skin irritation at the site where radiation beams were aimed
Nausea
Rectal irritation, which can cause diarrhea, painful bowel movements, or blood in the stool
Bowel incontinence
Bladder irritation, which can cause frequent urination, burning sensations while urinating, or blood in the urine
Fatigue
Sexual problems (impotence in men and vaginal irritation in women) Most side effects should lessen after treatments are completed, but problems such as rectal and bladder irritation may remain. Some degree of rectal and/or bladder irritation may be a permanent side effect. If you begin to notice these or other side effects, talk to your doctor right away so steps can be taken to reduce or relieve them.

Radiation therapy is often used to treat pancreatic cancer. It may produce various side effects, based on the type and dose of radiation therapy a person receives. Radiation therapy kills cancer cells, but it can hurt healthy cells in the process. Some common side effects include skin changes such as redness and swelling, nausea, vomiting, hair loss in the area treated with radiation, and diarrhea.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.