Discussing The Side Effects Of Radiation Treatments
When people think of cancer and its treatments, many immediately think about chemotherapy and the potential side effects like hair loss and vomiting.
But there are plenty of patients that receive radiation to treat their cancer either in conjunction with or instead of chemo. Radiation treatment also can result in unpleasant long and short-term side effects that can take quite a toll on cancer patients.
Remember that the side effects of radiation can vary depending on the amount of radiation, the patient, and the part of the body receiving the radiation treatment. Here, we will look at some of the general side effects of radiation therapy for cancer.
Radiation Can Cause Skin Problems or Changes
It is fairly common to experience changes to the skin in the area being radiated. It might look sunburned, red, swollen, tanned, or blistered. You might develop radiation dermatitis, which is a condition that tends to occur a few weeks after beginning radiation treatments. Dry, flaky, itchy, or peeling skin are possible signs of radiation dermatitis.
These skin problems often go away over time after radiation therapy ends. Sometimes, however, certain changes might be permanent, such as darker patches of skin or sensitive spots.
Hair Loss From Radiation Therapy
Radiation treatments can cause hair loss or hair thinning but only to the area receiving radiation.
In other words, if you are receiving radiation treatments to the head, you can lose hair on your head, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
If you are receiving radiation to the bones in your leg, you will not lose hair on your head. You might, however, lose hair on your leg in the area being treated.
Any hair you lose from radiation treatment will likely grow back. However, its texture and thickness may be very different than before.
Radiation Can Cause Severe Fatigue
Extreme fatigue is one of the most common and debilitating side effects of radiation therapy. It is more than being tired. After a few weeks of radiation treatment to any body part, patients usually begin to feel physically and emotionally exhausted. Why?
Unfortunately, as with chemo, radiation attacks some healthy cells in addition to cancerous ones. As radiation treatments continue, more healthy cells are destroyed, resulting in even more exhaustion that is not relieved by getting more rest. As treatments progress, fatigue worsens and can begin to interfere with daily activities.
The good news is that the fatigue eventually disappears after radiation treatments end.
Low Blood Counts From Radiation Treatment
Radiation can deplete your body of important infection-fighting and blood-clotting cells. When your “counts” get too low, you may need to take a break from radiation treatments to give your body time to regenerate its supply of these important cells.
Radiation To Specific Body Parts Can Cause Additional Side Effects
The side effects of radiation treatments discussed above are general to nearly everyone who receives radiation therapy as part of their cancer care. However, patients may have additional specific side effects depending on the area being treated.
For example, a patient who receives radiation therapy to treat a brain tumor might experience headaches, seizures, memory loss, speech problems, and/or hearing loss in addition to the side effects above. Long-term effects can include stroke-like symptoms and poor brain function.
Radiation to the abdomen can cause serious gastrointestinal issues, changes in appetite, vomiting, nausea, and cramps.
Radiation to the pelvic or pubic area can cause bladder problems, sexual function issues, and fertility problems for men and women.
If someone is getting radiation to treat lung cancer, they might have trouble swallowing, lose their appetite, or experience coughing or shortness of breath. Long-term effects from radiation to the chest can include heart damage.
Unlike chemotherapy which affects the body systemically, many of the most severe side effects from radiation therapy tend to be specific to the region of the body exposed to it.
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