When you have radiation treatment for cancer, your body goes through changes.
About 2 weeks after your first radiation treatment:
Your skin over the treated area may turn red, start to peel, get dark, or itch.
Your body hair will fall out, but only in the area being treated. When your hair grows back, it may be different than before.
You may have bladder discomfort.
You may have to urinate often.
It may burn when you urinate.
You may have diarrhea and cramping in your belly.
Women may have:
Itching, burning, or dryness in the vaginal area
Menstrual periods that stop or change
Both men and women may lose interest in sex.
When you have radiation treatment, colored markings are drawn on your skin. Do not remove them. These show where to aim the radiation. If they come off, do not redraw them. Tell your doctor instead.
Take care of the treatment area.
Wash gently with lukewarm water only. Do not scrub.
Do not use soap.
Pat yourself dry instead of rubbing.
Do not use lotions, ointments, perfumed powders, or perfumed products on this area. Ask your doctor what is OK to use.
Keep the area that is being treated out of direct sunlight.
Do not scratch or rub your skin.
Do not put heating pads or ice bags on the treatment area.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any breaks or openings in your skin.
Wear loose-fitting clothing around your stomach and pelvis.
Women should not wear girdles or pantyhose.
Cotton underwear are best.
Keep the buttocks and pelvic area clean and dry.
Drink plenty of liquids: 6 to 8 cups a day. But avoid orange juice, grapefruit juice, and other citrus juices.
Your doctor may place you on a low-residue diet that limits the amount of roughage you eat. You need to eat enough protein and calories to keep your weight up. Ask your doctor about liquid food supplements. These can help you get enough calories.
Do not take a laxative. Ask your doctor about medicines to help with diarrhea or the need to urinate often.
You may feel tired after a few days. If so:
Do not try to do too much in a day. You probably will not be able to do everything you are used to doing.
Get more sleep at night. Rest during the day when you can.
Feelings of tightness in your leg, or your shoes or socks feel tight
Weakness in your leg
Pain, aching, or heaviness in your arm or leg
Redness, swelling, or signs of infection
It is normal to have less interest in sex during and right after radiation treatments end. Your interest in sex will probably come back after your treatment is over and your life returns to normal.
Women who get radiation treatment in their pelvic areas may have shrinking or tightening of the vagina. Your doctor or nurse will advise you about using a dilator, which can help gently stretch vaginal walls.
Your doctor may check your blood counts regularly, especially if the radiation treatment area on your body is large.
National Cancer Institute. Radiation therapy and you: support for people with cancer. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/radiation-therapy-and-you. Accessed May 7, 2014.
Smith JA, Jhingran A. Principles of radiation therapy and chemotherapy in gynecologic cancer: basic principles, uses, and complications. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 27.
Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.