Knowing what to expect during and after treatment can help you prepare and reduce any anxiety that you may be feeling. The following information has been put together to help you understand your radiation therapy treatment, and we hope to reduce any concerns you have. It does not replace discussion with your doctor, or the advice of your care team specific to your needs.
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to safely treat and manage cancer.
Radiation oncologists use radiation to eradicate cancer cells, reduce their growth or relieve symptoms of cancer. Radiation therapy works by damaging cancer cells while limiting the impact to healthy cells. It works because cancer cells are more sensitive to radiation than healthy, normal cells. When a small dose of radiation is given each day over several weeks, normal cells can recover from the radiation, but cancer cells cannot. It is typically a painless treatment, similar to having an x-ray, and is only delivered to the part of the body being treated.
It may be used to destroy or slow the growth of cancer cells in the bone, or to make bones stronger and less likely to break. It can also be used to reduce or control bone pain.
Radiation therapy may cause side effects.
Side effects are usually caused by damage to normal cells in your body. Everyone is different, and you’re unlikely to experience all of the side effects listed.
We encourage you to talk to us about any side effects that worry you. We are here to help you find ways to manage any side effects that you experience.
Short-term side effects may include:
Two to three weeks after treatment starts your skin may become pink or irritated. This reaction can last the remainder of your treatment, and usually returns to normal two to four weeks after treatment finishes.Very occasionally the skin reaction can become more intense towards the end of treatment and for up to two weeks after treatment finishes.
You may feel tired or lack energy for daily activities during your treatment. You may feel increasingly tired as you reach the end of your treatment. This is a common reaction to radiation therapy and each person is usually affected to varying degrees. Fatigue usually eases a few weeks after treatment finishes. Finding a balance between rest and activity will help you manage.
Pain and discomfort
We will provide you with some information to help control any pain and discomfort. If required your doctor will also prescribe pain relief to help control any pain.
It is important that you follow the pain control instructions, which may include pre-treatment analgesia, to ensure pain is managed effectively and your comfort is maintained.
Radiation therapy to bone areas can cause a temporary increase in pain in the area being treated. It can occur after one dose of radiation and it usually lasts from 12 to 36 hours. Let us know as soon as possible if you experience a pain flare as we can help to control this with the use of additional breakthrough analgesia. If required, your doctor will prescribe further pain relief.
Your radiation oncologist will discuss any possible long-term side effects related specifically to your treatment.
Prescriptions and vitamins
Continue to take any prescribed medications. Please inform your nurse if you are taking vitamins, antioxidants or herbal supplements and if you are commenced on any new medications during your radiation therapy treatment.
If you have any questions regarding medications please discuss this with your radiation oncologist or nurse.
You may continue your usual work and activities, but you may need to rest more than usual due to tiredness or fatigue during treatment. Unless otherwise advised, you can eat and drink normally. Alcohol consumption in moderation is permitted, and you can continue to take any prescribed medications.
We ask that you don’t deliberately wash them off as this may further irritate your skin. The radiation therapists will reapply them each day as required.
Reviews and follow up appointments will be discussed and organised by your care team prior to completing treatment.
You should note a slight improvement in pain after five treatments. Pain relief will be reviewed between two to four weeks post treatment.
You may experience an improvement in your pain level towards the end of your treatment and further improvement may occur in the four to six weeks after completion of your treatment.
Radiation therapy treatment keeps working even after you have stopped coming in for regular treatment. This means symptoms may get a little worse before they get better. Generally, side effects will settle within two to four weeks of finishing your treatment.
Radiation therapy does not make you radioactive and it is safe to be around others, including children and pregnant women during and after your treatment. There is no restriction on physical contact with others.