Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy

Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy

Some of the most common side effects of radiation therapy include hair loss, upset stomach, vomiting, mouth sores, tiredness, fever and skin problems.

Key points to remember about side effects of radiation therapy

This page is part of a whole section about childhood cancer.

  • common side effects of radiation therapy include hair loss, upset stomach, vomiting, mouth sores, tiredness, fever and skin problems
  • the side effects that your child may experience will depend on where on their body they receive the radiation and the dose of radiation
  • as well as hurting cancer cells, radiation can also damage healthy cells that are close to the cancer
  • the healthy cells usually get better after therapy is finished
  • side effects can be either short-term (acute) or long-term (late)

What causes the side effects of radiation therapy?

As well as hurting cancer cells, radiation can also damage healthy cells that are close to the cancer. The healthy cells usually get better after therapy is finished.

What side effects could my child experience after radiation therapy?

The side effects that your child may experience will depend on:

  • where on their body they receive the radiation
  • the dose of radiation

Your child may have side effects such as:

  • hair loss
  • upset stomach
  • vomiting
  • mouth sores
  • tiredness
  • fever

Your child might also have skin problems at the place on the body they had the radiation:

  • skin redness
  • skin rashes
  • dry skin
  • itchiness

Can sunlight hurt my child after radiation therapy?

Radiation makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Sunburn can lead to blisters, which can get infected. Skin damage from the sun can also lead to skin cancer.

What are the short-term and long-term side effects of radiation therapy?

Side effects can be either short-term (acute) or long-term (late).

Short-term side effects

When radiation beams pass through normal tissue it can cause inflammation. This causes short-term (acute) side effects. This means that while the side effects show quickly after treatment, they do not last for a long time. These side effects peak about a week after the treatment has finished. Most side effects will be a lot better about 6 weeks after the treatment finishes.

Long-term effects

Long-term (late) side effects appear many months or years after treatment finishes. The inflammation of the tissues has settled but the healing process may cause scarring and damage to these tissues. This can restrict how the tissues function.

What can be done to minimise long-term side effects from radiation treatment?

Your child's healthcare team will plan your child's treatment to minimise the chances of long-term complications. If there are any significant risks to your child during treatment then the team will discuss these with you.

All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 04 August 2020.
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