Radiation therapy to the abdomen

Radiation therapy to the abdomen

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.

What are the possible short-term side effects?

Side effects of radiation therapy to the abdomen are mostly predictable, and depend on your treatment site, the dose, the number of treatments and your general health. Everyone is different and it is unlikely that you will experience all of the side effects listed below.

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.

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:

Skin reaction

With our current treatment techniques, it is rare for a skin reaction to occur when we are treating the abdomen. If however, you notice any changes to your skin in the treated area, please inform your nurse.


You may feel tired or lack energy for daily activities during your treatment. You may become increasingly tired as you progress towards the end of your treatment. This is a normal reaction to the radiation therapy and each person is affected in varying degrees. Fatigue usually eases a few weeks after treatment finishes. Finding a balance between rest and activity will help you manage daily life.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can be common reactions from radiation therapy to the abdomen. If you feel sick or experience a decreased appetite, please tell your nurse as these side effects can be managed.


Dietary changes may be required. Your nurse will discuss with you in detail any changes that are necessary. These may include avoiding rich/salty/spicy/acidic foods and alcohol consumption. Dietary supplements such as Ensure/Sustagen may be recommended. Referral to a dietitian will be organised by the nursing staff if required.

Bowel irritation

There can be irritation within the treatment area, and you may develop loose bowel motions or diarrhoea two to three weeks into treatment. Report abnormal bowel motions or diarrhoea to your nurse, as severity needs to be monitored and appropriate measures taken.

Your radiation oncologist will discuss any possible long-term side effects related specifically to your treatment.

How can I manage my skin during treatment?

Wear loose fitting clothing

Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing that could potentially rub or irritate the skin. Loose cotton underwear is best.

Avoid excessive temperatures

Avoid exposure of the treatment area to excessive temperatures, such as: direct sunlight, heat packs, ice packs, electric blankets, saunas or hot spas.

Wash with warm water and pat dry

You may wash the skin that is being treated with warm water and a mild non-perfumed soap. Pat the skin dry – do not rub.

Do not use talcum powder in the treated area.


Prescriptions and vitamins

Continue to take any prescribed medications. Please inform your nurse if you are taking vitamins, antioxidants or herbal supplements or if you start any new medications during your treatment.

If you have any questions regarding medications please discuss this with your radiation oncologist or nurse.

Frequently asked questions

How will radiation therapy affect my day to day life?

You may continue your usual work and activities but you may experience some tiredness near the end of your treatment and in the weeks following. Unless otherwise advised you may eat and drink normally. Alcohol consumption in moderation is permitted and you can continue to take any prescribed medications.

Can I wash the marks off my skin?

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.

What happens after my treatment is finished?

Your follow up arrangements will be discussed and organised by your treating team prior to completing treatment.

When do the side effects settle?

The treatment keeps on working after you have stopped coming in for treatment. Therefore the symptoms may get a little worse before they get better. Generally the side effects will have settled within four to six weeks of finishing your treatment.

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