What are common side effects of radiation therapy for cancer treatment?

According to the National Cancer Institute, radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading. Radiation works by damaging the DNA in cancer cells so they stop dividing or die. There are two types of radiation therapy — external beam radiation and internal radiation.

External beam radiation uses a machine that aims radiation at the cancer. Internal radiation, often called brachytherapy, means that the radiation is actually put into your body. Implants such as seeds, capsules or balloons are placed in the body near the cancer or in a body cavity.

Some common side effects from radiation therapy include: diarrhea, hair loss in the treatment area, mouth problems, nausea and vomiting, sexual changes, swelling, trouble swallowing and urinary and bladder changes.

The side effects vary based on the location of the radiation therapy. Most side effects will fade with time or when treatment stops, and doctors can often provide suggestions or even medication to help give relief.

There are some side effects that might appear months after treatment. These might include infertility, joint changes, lymphedema, brain changes, mouth changes or secondary cancers. Once again, the side effects will depend on where a patient receives their radiation therapy. It is important to discuss all possible side effects with your doctor before treatment begins.

For more information contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge at (225) 927-2273, cbritton@cancerservices.org , or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä Internet Resources:

Radiation Therapy and You – NCI


Radiation Therapy – ACS


This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.