Common Side Effects from Radiation Therapy
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Caregiver Resource Guide
You may not think of yourself as a “caregiver,” but any person who supports a patient during treatment has taken on this key role. Caring for a loved one who has cancer is important and rewarding, but it isn’t easy. We hope this guide, prepared by the Caregiver Resource Task Force, will help you, your team, and your loved one.
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Patient and Family Support
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With the Benefits of Radiation Oncology Come Side Effects
Patients often experience little or no side effects from the radiation therapy and are able to continue their normal routines. However, some patients do feel some discomfort from the treatment. Be sure to talk to a member of your radiation oncology treatment team about any problems you may have.
Many of the side effects of radiation therapy are related to the area that is being treated. For example, a breast cancer patient may notice skin irritation, like a mild to moderate sunburn, while a patient with cancer in the mouth may have soreness when swallowing. These side effects are usually temporary and can be treated by your doctor or other members of the treatment team.
Managing Side Effects
Side effects usually begin by the second or third week of treatment, and they may last for several weeks after the final radiation treatment. In rare instances, serious side effects develop after radiation therapy is finished. Your radiation oncologist and radiation oncology nurse are the best people to advise you about the side effects you may experience. Talk with them about any side effects you are having. They can give you information about how to manage them and may prescribe medicines that can help relieve your symptoms.
The side effect most often reported by patients receiving radiation is fatigue. The fatigue patients experience is usually not very severe, and patients can often continue all or some of their normal daily activities with a reduced schedule. Many patients continue to work full time during radiation therapy.
Many patients are concerned that radiation therapy will cause another cancer. In fact, the risk of developing a second tumor because of radiation therapy is very low. For many patients, radiation therapy can cure your cancer. This benefit far outweighs the very small risk that the treatment could cause a later cancer. If you smoke, the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of a second cancer is quit smoking.