Radiation treatment damages cancer cells but can also affect normal tissues in the treatment area. Damage to normal tissues may cause side effects.
These side effects will vary depending on:
- The amount of radiation prescribed.
- The area of your body being treated.
- The size of the treatment area.
- Whether or not you are having chemotherapy.
Your BC Cancer health care team will explain which side effects you may have during or after your treatment. You will see a nurse or a doctor regularly during your treatment to talk about your radiation side effects. The doctor you see may not be your radiation oncologist.
If you have a problem or concern between visits with the nurse or doctor, please talk to your radiation therapists who can help you right away.
Fatigue is a feeling of extreme tiredness. If you are fatigued, you may want to rest and sleep more than is normal for you.
There are many causes of fatigue:
- Radiation therapy
- Previous treatments
- Emotional stress
- Changes in lifestyle
You may be able to continue your normal lifestyle or you may need to adjust your routine according to your energy level. For more information, go to our Managing Fatigue page.
If you are having external radiation therapy, a skin reaction in the treated area is possible. Talk to your BC Cancer health care team about whether this might happen to you.
The skin in the treated area may become warm, dry or itchy. It may change colour (become pink, red, darker or tanned looking) and you may have hair loss in the treated area.
Most skin reactions begin within the first week or so of starting treatment, but timing can be different for each person. Some people do not have a skin reaction until after their radiation treatment is finished.
Skin reactions usually go away a few weeks after your last treatment. Some skin changes, like skin darkening or scarring, can be permanent (they will never go away).
Lifestyle and well-being
- Be very gentle with the skin in the treated area.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Protect the treated skin from wind and direct sunlight. If you cannot cover the area, use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- It is okay to swim as long as your skin is not broken or irritated. It is best to shower right away after swimming: gently wash off the chlorine, pat dry and apply moisturizer
Hygiene and moisturizing
- Keep your skin moisturized to prevent dryness. There is no evidence that any cream or product is better for this. If you like a certain product or brand, please continue to use it.
- If you do not have a moisturizer, use one that is water-based (water or aqua is the first ingredient on the list).
- Once you start your radiation treatment, use the moisturizer many times each day.
- You can use deodorants and anti-perspirants.
- When you bathe or shower, use warm water (not hot) and pat dry with a soft towel.
- Use an electric razor if you want to shave.
- If you have a skin reaction, your BC Cancer health care team may ask you to use a steroid-based cream or antibiotic on the treated area.
'Do Nots' for the treatment area
- Do not use perfume, alcohol, astringents, and adhesives on the treated skin.
- Avoid extremes of hot or cold (heating pads, ice packs, saunas, etc).
- Do not use hot tubs or Jacuzzis®.
- Do not rub, scratch, or massage the treated skin.
You may have difficulty eating and/or have a loss of appetite during your radiation treatment. This may lead to weight loss. It is very important to maintain your weight so that your body shape is the same as when your treatment was planned. Eating well also gives you energy and helps you manage side effects.
- Eat small meals and snacks frequently.
- Eat high calorie, high protein foods.
- Eat when your appetite is best.
- Try to drink at least 8 - 10 cups (2 - 2.5 litres) of fluid each day (unless you are on a fluid- restricted diet).
For more information, go to our Nutrition Information page.
If you have pain from your cancer or radiation treatment, please tell your BC Cancer health care team. Also, go to our Pain from Cancer