The Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for cancer therapy. Radiation works by focusing high levels of radiation directly at cancerous tumors in order to destroy as many cancer cells as possible. However, while killing cancerous cells, healthy surrounding cells can suffer negative consequences from radiation. This is why many patients experience harsh side effects during radiation treatment, often depending on their current health, age, type of cancer, and form and level of radiation therapy administered.
The most common side effects of radiation treatment include:
Nausea and stomach upset
Radiation therapy is most often linked to nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing treatment. In particular, if radiation is directed at a tumor in the stomach or abdomen, more severe side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea and digestive distress can occur.
Radiation patients often report a series of mouth and tooth related issues associated with their treatment. For instance, inflammation (or lymphedema) and fluid retention in the mouth tissues can result due to a compromised lymphatic system. Mouth and tooth issues such as mouth and jaw tenderness, difficulty swallowing, nausea, and dry mouth can occur if radiation is directed at the head, mouth or throat.
Radiation patients often report extreme fatigue in conjunction with treatment. This is a common side effect of radiation therapy as well as other cancer treatments, like chemotherapy) often used simultaneously.
Radiation therapy can also be responsible for cough, fever, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, and a condition known as radiation pneumonitis, which can cause permanent scarring in the lungs when radiation is pointed at or near the chest and throat.
Extreme skin dryness, including redness, itchiness, peeling or blistering often occurs in regions and surrounding areas receiving radiation therapy. Thankfully, these side effects typically disappear in the weeks and months after treatment.
One of the more embarrassing side effects of radiation therapy, urinary urgency and incontinence can develop in response to radiation in the bladder and pelvic areas.
Gender specific symptoms
Women and men often react differently to radiation therapy. For instance, male patients often report erectile dysfunction and low sperm count when radiation is pointed at or near the groin. Women patients, on the other hand, can suffer vaginal dryness and burning if they’re going through menopause at the same time as radiation treatment. While menstruating women can experience a lack of period or infertility, if radiation focuses on the ovaries.