During the therapy, a machine is used to administer the beams to the patient’s treatment location. This machine is called a linear accelerator, and is used to deliver radioactive beams to the patient’s treatment area from different angles.
The treatment may continue in a series of sessions that last a few days each, with intervals of several weeks in between sessions to allow healthy cells to recuperate.
Radiation therapy side effects
Side effects occur depending on where the cancer is located, its type, the radiation dose and the patient’s overall health.
Radiation therapy side effects: Early side effects
At first, the patient may experience short-term and treatable radiation therapy side effects such as:
- Sore skin
- Sore mouth
- Appetite loss
- Hair loss
Patients may also be emotionally affected so contacting support groups may help. These symptoms usually disappear after treatment.
Radiation therapy side effects: Later side effects
These side effects take time to develop. Radiation treatment may have long-term effects on body tissues. To prevent these, the treatment planning should be done carefully. When undergoing this type of treatment, the patient should discuss with their doctor in-depth regarding the possible long-term radiation therapy side effects.
Among long-term radiation therapy side effects are the following:
- In the case of radiation therapy to the brain, long-term affects may include loss of memory, stroke-like symptoms, poor brain function
- Radiation therapy to the breast may result in less skin sensitivity, and larger pores. The size of the breast may change.
- Radiation therapy to the chest may produce heart complications, such as damage to the arteries and heart valve.
- Chest radiation therapy may also result in inflammation of the lungs.
- Radiation to the pelvis may result in radiation cystitis, urinary incontinence, and fistulas.
- In women, menstrual periods may stop permanently. In men, radiation therapy may reduce number and quality of sperm cells.
In treating cancer, the radiation therapy procedures and side effects may be intimidating.