Side effects of radiation treatment

Radiation therapy affects the tissues of the human body in many different ways. The radiation affects actively dividing cells much more intensely than the cells which are not. While this is an intended effect when dealing with problems such as tumors, it can also give rise to a number of unwanted side-effects, notably in the parts of the body which are being subjected to treatment. Many of these side effects usually first start to manifest themselves over a matter of days, and can continue to exist for a number of weeks even after the treatment is over. However, some of these side effects run much deeper, often manifesting themselves months after the conclusion of the treatment.

Physical fatigue is one of the side effects of radiation therapy. The main factor which sets fatigue apart from normal tiredness is that it cannot be alleviated through rest. This is a side effect that can linger for extended periods of time even after completion of the treatment. Fatigue is dangerous for the human body because it reduces the overall energy retention capability of the body once it sets in fully, even if it treated subsequently. Its effects, however, can be minimized through light/moderate physical exercise with planned rest breaks.

In the earliest days of radiotherapy, skin damage used to be a major problem, but thanks to advancements in modern medical technology, this has been reduced greatly. This is largely due to the fact that radiation doses are now administered under the skin surface, while they used to be applied over skin in the past. However, the human body is nonetheless a surprisingly sensitive wonder of biology, and one’s skin may still respond to radiation treatment in several ways, albeit in considerably reduced intensity. The affected skin patches may become dehydrated and peel off over the course of a month or so, after which the surface may become hairless and somewhat darker. The loss of hair happens due to follicular damage. The skin of the area may also be very itchy, and it can be treated using various moisturizing agents. However, consulting a doctor to find the right type of moisturizer for your skin is a good idea in order to prevent any further side-effects from appearing. Alcohol-based perfumes, lotions and deodorants should also be avoided so as not to cause further damage to the affected skin. Try your best to avoid exposing the affected skin to sunlight. In some cases, the affected skin has also been known to become thin and hard, and not very supportive of the healing of wounds on it.

Radiation therapy may also cause the patient to suffer from mucositis (a type of swelling that can occur inside one’s mouth) as a side effect. Fortunately, this is a short-duration side-effect that usually heals within a fortnight or so after the completion of the treatment. Radiation therapy may cause unintentional damage to one’s taste buds and salivary glands, causing saliva to increase considerably in viscosity. It can also result in the development of swallowing problems. These two side-effects may become permanent in the case of certain patients.

Radiation therapy can also have side effects on one’s dental condition as well, boosting the possibilities of the appearance of cavities. This is a problem that can be counteracted through a dental checkup conducted prior to receiving radiotherapy, and through the supplement of additional fluoride to the teeth in order to strengthen them.

When the brain is subjected to radiation therapy (usually to treat brain tumors), it may result in memory loss, nausea, reduced sexual desire, lack of coordination when walking and worsening of eyesight. While somewhat irritating, these problems are still relatively minor, and can at least be tolerated, even if not treated.

Last updated on Apr 22nd, 2010 and filed under Medical Treatment. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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