Side effects of radiation treatment are commonly grouped into:
- Acute side effects: Those that develop early on, during, or at the end of the treatment.
- Late side effects: Those that develop many months, if not years, later.
Acute side effects
The inflammation caused by the radiation beams passing through normal tissue results in the acute side effects. These are the most common side effects of radiation treatment and are relatively mild and short-lived. They peak about a week after the treatment has finished. Most side effects will be greatly improved by about 6 weeks after the treatment has finished. Some common acute side effects are: feeling tired, sore skin, hair loss, not wanting to eat, feeling sick/nausea, diarrhoea, mouth and throat problems, loss of interest in sex, and erectile dysfunction. Your treatment team will tell you what you are likely to experience.
Late side effects
Late or long-term side effects appear many months or years after radiation treatment. The inflammation of the tissues will have settled, but sometimes the healing process results in scarring and damage to these tissues, which will restrict their function. Your treatment will have been planned specifically to minimise the likelihood of late complications and any significant risks that might exist will be discussed with you. Possible long-term side effects include infertility, skin changes, bowel incontinence and lymphoedema.
The rest of this page provides information about the acute and late side effects and how you might manage them.