7 Common Radiation Oncology Side Effects

Radiation oncology is a treatment method that uses ionizing radiation to target the rapidly dividing cancer cells within a tumor. Radioactive therapies have been used for decades with plenty of success for thousands of patients, but these are not without their own list of side effects. As you read through our list of radiation oncology side effects, remember that you and your doctor will talk about the risks versus the benefits of this treatment. Ultimately, it is your decision as to which treatment— if any— you will pursue.

Side Effects of Radiation Oncology

During your treatment, keep an eye out for the following radiation oncology side effects, and remember that not all patients will experience all of them. You know your body better than anyone else, so make sure to report anything unusual to your oncologist.

1 – Hair Loss

One of the most commonly mentioned side effects of radiation oncology is hair loss. This is much more common with chemotherapy than targeted radiation therapies, but it can still happen. Patients who receive radiation treatments to the upper half of their bodies are much more likely to experience hair loss.

2 – Nausea and Vomiting

Another of the extremely common side effects of radiation oncology is nausea and vomiting – especially for patients who are getting treatment in the abdominal area. Let your doctor know if you are having this symptom so that they can prescribe preventative medication for you.

3 – Skin Rashes, Burns, and Peeling

Some radiation oncology side effects are both visible and uncomfortable. Radiation can cause rashes and burns regardless of where the rays are directed. Much like the sun’s UV light, medical radiation can cause damage to the skin (skin cells rapidly reproduce and replace themselves, so this is normal). You can reduce your likelihood of developing radiation burns by staying out of the sun and properly moisturizing your skin at all times.

4 – Fatigue, Stress, and Depression

The battle against cancer is reason enough to struggle with these issues, but radiation can also be extremely draining on your body and your mind. Don’t hesitate to mention it to your doctor if you are struggling. It’s important to keep your oncologist up to date on how you are feeling; mental health is no less important than your physical health.

5 – Bowel Issues

Most commonly diarrhea, bowel issues can crop up if you are undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or are on antibiotics. While abdominal radiation itself can cause diarrhea, it’s far more common in patients that are combining treatments. Since radiation tends to affect the epithelial and mucous-producing skin layers, the inner bowel is also susceptible to radiation damage. This can lead to inflammation and IBS-like symptoms in patients that receive abdominal radiation.

6 – Mucositis

This is just a fancy word that describes all of the effects that radiation can have on mucous-producing skin tissue. Mucositis can occur anywhere along the digestive tract where there is radiation exposure. Symptoms include a swollen tongue, mouth sores, and increases in saliva production. 

7 – Weight Loss

Fighting off cancer is an exhausting endeavor— both mentally and physically. Combined with the discomfort of mucositis, nausea, vomiting, and bowel problems, it’s no wonder that some patients lose massive amounts of weight. You should try your best to continue eating a healthy diet while you are receiving radiotherapy, but we understand how difficult it can be. You can try eating many small meals throughout the day for a better chance at keeping food down and converting it into usable nutrients.

See A Radiation Oncologist In Manhattan

We know how nerve-racking reading this list of side effects can be; you and your doctor will address them as (and if) they come up. Remember that the team at Rosetta Radiology is always on your side, so let us know if you’re experiencing any side effects that are unbearable. Need to see a radiation oncologist in Manhattan? Contact our office to schedule an appointment today.