Radiation therapy affects normal cells as well as cancer cells. The side effects of radiation depend on the amount and the type of radiation you get, as well as the area of the body being treated.
Here’s a list of the side effects you may have after radiation:
Red, dry, burning, or irritated skin
Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
Diarrhea, if your abdomen is being treated
Hair loss, if your head is being treated
Mouth and throat sores, if that area is being treated
Most of these side effects will get better or go away over time after you finish treatment. Your doctor will discuss other possible long-term side effects.
Radiation to your chest or neck can damage your salivary glands. It can cause dry mouth called xerostomia. Radiation can also cause inflammation of the esophagus. This is called esophagitis. It leads to difficult and painful swallowing. Radiation to the stomach can cause upset stomach and diarrhea.
Radiation may worsen the side effects of chemotherapy. Long-term side effects of radiation therapy may not show up for many years after you complete treatments. How severe they are depends on the dose, frequency, and location of the treatments. In rare cases, cancerous tumors can develop in other parts of your body.
Ask your doctor which symptoms, if any, require that you call right away. For instance, it is wise to call your doctor if you have signs of infection, such as fever or pain.