coping with side effects of radiation therapy

The side effects of radiation therapy start around two weeks into treatment and progress through treatment to peak in the last week or just after treatment ends. The side effects start to improve 2-3 weeks after the end of treatment.

Side effects associated with radiation therapy depend on:
  • the dose of radiation therapy
  • the area being treated
  • whether or not chemotherapy is added to the radiation.
Each person responds to radiation therapy differently. Some people may experience a few side effects while others may not experience any at all. The following are some common side effects of radiation therapy.
  • tiredness
  • hoarse voice
  • skin irritation in the treated area e.g. redness, dryness and itching, weeping skin, scaling or sometimes skin breakdown (sores)
  • pain on swallowing or difficulty with swallowing
  • irritation in the throat progressing to sore throat requiring pain killers
  • dry mouth and throat
Most side effects are short lived and may go away within 4–6 weeks of finishing radiation therapy. Some side effects may last for months after you finish radiation therapy and some may be permanent.

Once your radiation therapy ends, you will continue to have follow-up appointments so that your doctor can check your recovery and monitor any side effects that you may have. Your doctor will arrange for a PET scan about 12 weeks after finishing radiation therapy to make sure the cancer has completely gone.