When you have radiation treatment for cancer, your body goes through some changes.
About 2 weeks after your first treatment:
It may be hard to swallow, or swallowing may hurt.
Your throat may feel dry or scratchy.
You may develop a cough.
Your skin over the treated area may turn red, start to peel, or get dark, or it may itch.
Most of these changes should go away 4 - 6 weeks after the radiation treatment is over.
You may notice changes in the way your breast looks or feels (if you are getting radiation after a lumpectomy). These changes include:
Soreness or swelling in the area being treated. This should go away 4 - 6 weeks after treatment is over.
The skin on your breast may become more sensitive or numb.
Skin and breast tissue may be thicker or firmer. The skin may be slightly darker.
After therapy, your breast may feel larger or smaller. Many women will not have any change in size.
You may notice these changes for up to 12 months after therapy starts.
When you have radiation treatment, a health care provider draws colored markings 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 if they come off. These must stay there until your treatments are done.
Take care of the treatment area:
Wash gently with lukewarm water only. Do not scrub. Pat your skin dry.
Do NOT use soaps. Do not use lotions, ointments, makeup, perfumed powders, or other perfumed products on this area. Ask your doctor what is okay to use.
Keep the area that is being treated out of the direct sun.
Do not scratch or rub your skin.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any break or opening in your skin. Do not put heating pads or ice bags on the treatment area. Wear loose-fitting clothing.
Do not wear a bra, or wear a loose-fitting bra with no underwire. Ask your doctor about wearing your breast prosthesis, if you have one.
Do not shave or use deodorant under the arm on the side being treated. You may dust the area with baby powder or cornstarch.
Your arm is red, swollen, or there are signs of infection.
Ask your doctor or nurse about exercises you can do to keep your arm moving freely.
Most people who get radiation treatment begin to feel tired after a few days. If you feel tired:
Do not try to do too much in a day. You probably will not be able to do everything you are used to doing.
Try to get more sleep at night. Rest during the day when you can.
Take a few weeks off work, or work less.
Sharma RA, Vallis KA, McKenna WG. Basics of radiation therapy. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKenna WG, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 29.
Perry MC. Approach to the patient with cancer. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 182.
Davidson N. Breast cancer and benign breast disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 204.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.