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Radiation Therapy Side Effects

Common side effects of radiation therapy are fatigue, skin changes, and some loss of appetite. Today's advanced technologies have greatly reduced side effects. To learn more about how to cope with those that occur, visit:

Before you begin your radiation treatment, talk with your medical team about possible side effects and their recommendations for managing them.


During radiation therapy, your body uses more energy to handle the demands of cancer and treatment. As a result, you may become weak or fatigued. This may begin a few weeks after radiation therapy begins, and it may increase as your treatment progress. After your treatment is finished, your weakness and fatigue should gradually go away.

To fight weakness and fatigue associated with radiation treatment:

  • Try to sleep more at night and rest during the day.
  • Ask family members or friends to help you with daily chores such as shopping, cooking, child care, housework, and driving.
  • Try to eat a healthy protein with every meal or snack and drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise as you are able to increase your energy level.

Skin Irritations

Your skin may become red, dry, blistered, irritated or taking on the appearance of a tan or sunburn while undergoing radiation treatment. This usually occurs in and around the area of your body being treated.

Immediately notify your medical team of any noticeable skin changes. They can suggest measures to relieve your discomfort and possibly minimize further irritation.

During radiation treatments, you need to be gentle with your skin:

  • Use only lukewarm water and mild soap.
  • Do not rub, scrub, or scratch your affected areas, even while bathing.
  • Do not wear tight clothing over the treatment area.
  • Avoid using heating pads or ice packs on your affected skin, unless advised by your doctor.
  • Do not use powders, creams, perfumes, deodorants, body oils, ointments, lotions, or home remedies on your affected skin while you are being treated and for several weeks afterward.
  • Avoid exposing your affected skin areas to the sun during treatments, and for at least one year after your treatments are completed.

Loss of Appetite

You may experience digestive problems or a complete loss of interest in food during radiation treatment. Even if you are not hungry, it is important to keep your protein and calorie intake as high as possible.

If you develop eating problems, quickly talk with your oncologist, nurse, or nutritionist. They can provide tips and recipe ideas. You can also visit:

There are several things you can do when you lose your appetite:

  • Eat small meals a day rather than large ones.
  • Snack often with healthy foods.
  • Increase the caloric content of the foods you eat.
  • Use nutritional supplementation such as instant breakfast or liquid supplements in between meals.