What are The Side Effects of Radiation Therapy?
Side effects can occur with any type of treatment, but not everyone has them or experiences them in the same way. General side effects of radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy is used against many cancers to help shrink tumors or to help reduce the risk that they will return. As with all medical interventions, long-term side effects occur. According to the Mayo Clinic, side effects can persist months or years after active treatment has ended. Late effects can occur years after treatment, as well, and these can also be long term.
What Is Radiation Therapy
Cancer is a disease that causes cells to grow abnormally and out of control. In radiation therapy, high-energy X-rays are directed at a person’s body to kill cancer cells and keep them from growing and multiplying. Most people have been exposed to radiation in the form of an X-ray most likely at a dentist’s office. And just like the X-rays given in the dentist’s office, radiation therapy is painless. But unlike a typical X-ray, the radiation isn’t used just to create a picture of a tooth or broken bone. Radiation therapy delivers higher doses of radiation so it will kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. While it’s killing the cancer, radiation therapy also can damage normal cells. The good news is that normal cells usually recover from the effects of radiation. Doctors take precautions to protect a person’s healthy cells when they’re giving radiation treatments.
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Changes in appetite
Radiation therapy can affect a person’s appetite in a number of ways. Radiation therapy to the head and neck area can cause temporary changes in taste or smell, which can make foods seem less appetizing. Some people lose interest in food completely and don’t eat, even though they know they need to. Loss of appetite is a common problem and can lead to weight loss. Some people may gain weight from frequent snacking to control nausea during treatment.
Radiation sickness is characterized by loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. This is a common side effect if the stomach and abdomen are in the treatment area. It can also occur as a general side effect regardless of the area being treated. Radiation sickness is due to toxic substances that are released when tumour cells break down and die. Radiation sickness usually goes away a few weeks after external beam radiation therapy is finished.
Damage to your body
Radiation can damage normal cells, and sometimes this damage can have long-term effects. For instance, radiation to the chest area may damage the lungs or heart. In some people this might affect a person’s ability to do things. Radiation to the abdomen (belly) or pelvis can lead to bladder, bowel, fertility, or sexual problems in some people. Radiation in certain areas can also lead to fluid build-up and swelling in parts of the body.
Anxiety or depression
Each person reacts differently to a cancer treatment for diagnosis and will cope in different ways. Starting radiation therapy can lead to new worries and fears and may cause anxiety, sadness and depression. If you have these feelings most days, tell the healthcare team. They may prescribe medications or refer you to a professional, such as a social worker or psychologist.
Reduced bone growth
Reduced bone growth occurs because of radiation’s effect on the rapidly dividing immature cells of bones that lie in the treatment area. This is most noticeable in very young children because most of their bones have not matured to the point where they can withstand radiation. The child’s height or limb length can be shortened. Scoliosis (curved spine), kyphosis (hunchback) or spinal shortening can also occur. In addition, bones treated with radiation tend to break easily.
Hair loss (alopecia) only occurs in the area being treated with radiation therapy. Thinning or loss of hair can occur in any area where radiation is directed. The extent of hair loss and regrowth varies from person to person and depends on the dose of radiation.Hair loss can begin about 2–3 weeks after radiation therapy starts. Smaller doses of radiation usually result in temporary hair loss. Permanent hair loss is more common at higher doses. When hair regrows, usually about 3–6 months after radiation therapy is finished, the colour or texture may be different and it may grow back thinner or patchy.