• Most people know that radiation therapy can cause hair loss, but there can be other side effects. Side effects from radiation therapy can occur while the patient is undergoing treatment or months after treatment has been completed.


    Radiation therapy can be very taxing on an individual, causing energy levels to diminish. Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of radiation therapy.

    Skin Problems

    Radiation therapy can cause skin to become dry or to react in a manner similar to sunburn. Expect dry, flaky, itchy skin after a few weeks of treatment. In the treatment area, the skin may also become tanned, sunburned, blistered, red, irritated or swollen. In most cases, this will disappear once treatment is finished, but in some cases the skin may remain a darker shade.

    Treatment to the Head and Neck

    When radiation therapy is used to treat areas in the head or neck, patients may have difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, mouth soreness, ear aches, swelling, nausea or changes in taste. Individuals treated with radiation therapy in these areas should take extra measures to care for their teeth, gums and mouth.

    Treatment to the Breasts or Chest

    Radiation therapy treatment to the breasts or chest can affect other systems in that area and can lead to shortness of breath, swallowing problems and coughing.

    Treatment to the Abdomen or Pelvis

    When radiation therapy is used to treat the abdomen, it can cause side effects like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If the pelvis is treated, a patient may experience a lower sex drive or infertility after treatment.

    Long-term Effects

    Not all side effects of radiation therapy are short term. Side effects experienced during treatment may not go away, and in some cases internal scarring may have occurred. Joint problems, mouth problems and infertility are just a few of the possible long-term effects. In rare cases, a secondary cancer appears later in life due to the initial radiation treatment.


    American Cancer Society: Radiation Therapy Effects

    National Cancer Institute: Radiation Therapy Side Effects

    Cleveland Clinic: Common Radiation Therapy Side Effects

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