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.
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 develop a fever, more mucus when you cough, or feel more out of breath.
For weeks to months after radiation treatment, you may notice shortness of breath. You are more likely to notice when you are active. Contact your health care provider if you develop this symptom.
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, and 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.
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.
Dry, Sore Throat, or Cough
Try using a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom or main living area. Do not smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Do not chew tobacco.
Try sucking on sugarless mints and candy to add saliva to your mouth.
Mix one half teaspoon of salt and one quarter teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Gargle with this solution several times a day. Do not use store-bought mouthwashes or lozenges.
For a cough that does not go away:
Ask your doctor or nurse which cough medicine is okay to use (it should have low alcohol content).
Drink enough fluids to keep your mucus thin.
Your doctor may check your blood counts regularly, especially if the radiation treatment area on your body is large.
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.
Silvestri GA, Jett JR. Clinical aspects of lung cancer. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al. Murray& Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed.Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 47.
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.