Radiation Therapy

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

With radiation therapy, the side effects depend on the treatment dose and the part of the body that is treated. The most common side effects are: 

  • tiredness and
  • skin reactions (such as a rash or redness, permanent pigmentation, and scarring) in the treated area.

Radiation therapy can cause inflammation of tissues and organs in and around the body site radiated.

  • This can cause symptoms that depend on what organs are affected and to what degree. For example, radiation can inflame skin to cause a burn or permanent pigmentation.
  • It can also irritate the colon and cause diarrhea.

Radiation therapy can also cause a decrease in the number of white blood cells, which help protect the body against infection. Today radiation therapy using modern types of equipment can be better focused and thereby result in fewer side effects.

Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be unpleasant, they can usually be treated or controlled. It also helps to know that, in most cases, they are not permanent. Again, the possible side effects of radiation therapy depend on the location and the amount of radiation.

Medically reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Medical Oncology

REFERENCE:

Mitin, Timur, MD, PHD. "Radiation therapy techniques in cancer treatment." UptoDate.com. Updated Jan. 14, 2016.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/8/2016

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