Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is part of cancer treatment aiming to kill malignant cells. If the tumors are localized, the radiation therapy is used as a curative process. But usually, it is used as a part of curative therapy in conjunction with chemotherapy and after surgery to remove the malignancy.
In these cases radiotherapy is aimed at preventing the recurrence of tumors. The radiation is used to control the cell growth of tumors. But the radiation needs to pass through normal cells adjoining the tumors; so a technique of focusing radiations from different angles is used to avoid damage to normal cells.
But obviously, it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk to the normal surrounding cells and skin. Adverse effects of radiotherapy depend on the condition of the patient and how often the therapy is administered.
Common Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy
The most common effects of radiotherapy observed are fatigue, skin problems, decreased blood count and loss of appetite.
People undergoing radiation therapy show tiredness during the treatment. The fatigue experienced gives the patient a feeling of acute tiredness. Though this is not a permanent condition and an uninterrupted sleep will restore the condition, it is necessary to plan for support for helping with routine tasks.
The condition of fatigue for cancer patients is aggravated from several other factors. Chemotherapy also causes severe fatigue and if it is combined with radiotherapy then the situation gets aggravated. Nutritional deficiency and loss of appetite cause tiredness. The emotional and physical strain of the cancer and chemotherapy treatment adds to the general feeling of tiredness.
To combat the fatigue one must be prepared for it when radiotherapy is planned by delegating the responsibilities to family members like caring children, cleaning and cooking. Drinking plenty of water and fluids helps you to stop fatigue due to dehydration. Exercise can help you to overcome fatigue.
When radiation is applied, naturally it has to pass through other organs and invariably skin is also exposed to radiation. The skin will appear sunburned or red and gets irritated. There are several special creams available that can provide some comfort such as “Radiagel”.
You can use such creams in consultation with your physician. You must avoid scented body lotions and perfumes. You must never expose the affected skin to direct sunlight at least for over a year. The problems of the skin caused by radiation therapy will usually subside once the radiation course ends.
Decrease In Blood Count
Exposure to radiation can reduce the blood count of white blood cells and platelets. Since white blood cells defend the body against foreign organisms, the decrease in their count can degrade the immunity from several diseases. It is important to check the blood count parameters regularly and take corrective measures.
Loss Of Appetite
Loss of appetite due to radiation therapy can lead to other related problems like nutritional deficiency and increased fatigue. It is essential for the patient to take adequate amount of nutritional food to retain strength for the treatment. It is recommended to have smaller meals throughout the day.
Though many of these side effects are temporary, it is better to be prepared for overcoming these with proper care so that the therapy can be successful.