Side Effects

Managing Side Effects

Side Effects

Managing Side Effects

The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy cancer cells, but radiation therapy can also injure or destroy normal cells. This can cause some side effects.

Your Radiation Oncologist will explain any possible side effects before your treatment begins.

Early or acute side effects from radiation therapy can be treated and usually go away a few weeks after your treatment ends. Fatigue, loss of appetite, and skin irritation are examples of acute side effects.

Late or long-term side effects may take months or years to develop and can be permanent. For example, high doses of radiation can cause permanent hair loss and damage to the skin in the treatment area.

You should always tell your treatment team about any symptoms or side effects that you have. Your radiation Nurse will give you specific information on how to manage those side effects.

Cancer Patient Side Effects
Learning about and managing side effects.
Recommended Skin Care During Radiation Treatment
  • Wash your skin in the treatment area with warm water and an unscented moisturizing soap, at least once a day. Be gentle. Do not scrub.
  • Pat your skin dry.
  • A mild shampoo (such as baby shampoo) may be used to wash your scalp if you are receiving radiation to your head.
  • A mild, unscented moisturizer may be used 2 to 3 times a day (morning, midday, and at bedtime) to the treatment area. Please see your radiation Nurse for specific skin product recommendations and instructions.
  • Aluminum free deodorants/antiperspirants may be used during radiation treatment.
  • Do not use anything else on the skin in the treatment area. For example, after-shave lotion, perfume, makeup, or powder.
  • If you choose to shave, only use an electric razor in the treatment area.
  • Wear loose clothing to avoid friction or tightness in the treatment area.
  • Protect your skin from the sun by applying sunscreen (at least SPF 50) to the treatment area before going outside.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat if you are receiving radiation to your head or neck.

You may notice changes in your appetite during your radiation treatment. It is very important that you eat well to help lessen the side effects of cancer therapy. Eat foods that are high in protein and calories to maintain your weight and strength. You should always check with your Radiation Oncologist or Nurse before taking vitamins or other supplements. A consult with our Nutritionist is available and, in some cases, required.


It is normal for you to feel tired during your treatment. Low energy can be a side effect of your treatments.

Your body is working very hard to heal and repair itself. Be sure to get plenty of sleep at night. Talk to your Radiation Oncologist or Nurse if you are fatigued.

If you are working full-time, you may have to adjust your schedule to part-time or do some work from home. Let family members and friends help you with daily chores.

Light exercise, like walking, can help you feel less tired. Ask your Radiation Oncologist or Nurse about starting an exercise program.

Hair Loss

Radiation therapy can cause hair loss (also called alopecia) in the area of the body that is being treated. Many patients find that their hair grows back several months after treatments stop. The new hair may be different in color and texture. Whether or not your hair grows back depends on the type and dose of radiation you receive and the area of your body that was treated.

Sexual Activity

You can be sexually active during radiation treatment, but you must use a reliable method of birth control to prevent pregnancy. If you are a man in treatment, you should not get your partner pregnant.

Feeling tired can reduce your interest and desire. This is temporary and should go away after you finish your therapy.

Fertility – During and After Treatment 

For women of childbearing years…

If you are already pregnant, or think you might be pregnant, tell your Radiation Oncologist before treatment begins. You should not become pregnant during your treatments because the radiation therapy could injure your developing baby. Talk with your Radiation Oncologist about reliable methods of birth control.

Radiation therapy may affect your future fertility. If you plan to have a child in the future, talk with your doctor about the options for preserving your eggs.

For men…

Receiving radiation therapy in the area of your testes can reduce both the number and function of your sperm. This does not mean that conception cannot occur. Talk with your Radiation Oncologist about reliable methods of birth control.

Radiation therapy may affect your future fertility. If you are concerned about fertility, you should discuss sperm banking with your Radiation Oncologist before your treatments begin.

Feelings and Concerns

It is normal for a person with cancer and their family to have worries or concerns. Each person may react differently to the stress cancer treatment has on their daily life. You may also have concerns about your job, parenting, or finances. Sometimes just talking about these issues can be helpful. Please tell someone on your radiation treatment team about any concerns you may have. They can find the right people and resources to help you.