Breast cancer radiation therapy uses the high-powered beam to destroy or damage cancer cells in the body such as the tumor site, lympho nodes. The therapy achievement is to stop cancer from spreading and reduce the risk of recurrence. Although most people tolerate radiation therapy well, there are some possible side effects that can make patients feel confused and worried.
Short-term side effects
Most side effects from radiation therapy occur after a few weeks of treatment and go away within a few weeks after treatment ends.
- Skin irritation in the targeted area is the most common side effect of radiotherapy. After the first few treatments, the skin may become red and sore like a sunburn. The irritation depends on the type of skin the patient and the area experienced treatment. However, it should heal quickly in the following final weeks treatment. In some certain cases, the part the radiotherapy beams is provided on the body such as the back and the front of chest becomes red or sore. Patients should tell the radiotherapist immediately.
- Fatique is also a common side effect. It almost always disappears within a few weeks of the last treatment.
- Stress. The huge time commitment for the therapy can interfere with work and family responsibilities, especially if the patient lack of transportation or don’t live close to a treatment facility, which may cause emotional upset, stress, and anxiety.
- Although this therapy does not make hair loss, patients may lose some hair under the arm or on the breast or chest area receiving radiation.
Long-term side effects
After treatment, there may be some changes in appearance and internal organ function of the patients due to the effect of x-rays to the improper area.
- Lymphoedema. Some women who have had surgery in their armpit are likely to get a swelling in the arm after radiotherapy to this area. Nowadays, specialists do not recommend having both surgery and radiotherapy to the armpit due to the increased risk of lymphedema expect if the lympho nodes involve cancer cells.
- Breathlessness. Rarely, patients can get a continuing cough or breathlessness some years after radiotherapy. This is due to the fact that radiotherapy causes unpredictable changes in the lung tissue called radiation fibrosis.
- Heart problems. In rare cases, people undergone radiotherapy to the left side of their chest may have changes in their heart many years later.
- Risk of another cancer. A long-term radiation treatment possibly influences a risk of getting another cancer many years later. This is caused by the radiation damage to healthy tissues and immune system of the body.
Before starting radiation, patients should discuss with their cancer care team about the possible long-term effects. This can help them know what symptoms may experience during and after treatment to reduce the side effects of the therapy by changes in lifestyle.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: April 20, 2017 | Last Modified: April 20, 2017
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Side effects of radiation therapy. http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/SideEffectsofRadiationTherapy.html. Accessed December 22, 2016.
Long-term side effects of radiation therapy. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/radiation/understandingradiationtherapyaguideforpatientsandfamilies/understanding-radiation-therapy-long-term-side-effects . Accessed December 22, 2016.