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Date: 23 September 2023
Side effects of treatment
There will be some side effects and these are grouped into early and late side effects.
The most common side effects often occur during the course of radiotherapy treatment and may continue for a few weeks after treatment has finished. Side effects which occur six months or longer after treatment has finished are called late side effects. The doctor will explain all the potential side effects, even if they are quite rare.
Any member of the treatment team can be approached with questions about side-effects.
Most side effects of radiotherapy will continue for about 10 – 15 days after treatment has finished and then gradually begin to get better. However, symptoms of tiredness may continue for longer.
Not everyone feels tired during radiotherapy treatment but many people do. For example, some people are able to continue working, but others need to take time off work.
Tiredness (fatigue) can continue for weeks to months after treatment has finished. It can often be made worse by having to travel to hospital each day, or by other treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy can make skin in the treated area sore. To minimise the skin reaction extra care of the skin in the area is needed and not all skin care products (soaps, moisturisers, shower gels) can be used.
Some people develop a skin reaction while having external radiotherapy. If this happens, it may begin after about 10 days and will settle down 2 – 4 weeks after the treatment has finished.
Radiotherapy will only cause hair loss in the treatment area. The clinical oncologist or radiographers can indicate exactly where hair may fall out.
Hair usually begins to fall out after 2–3 weeks. Hair should grow back after treatment finishes. This may take several months, although it depends on the dose of radiotherapy received.
Occasionally, hair loss is permanent. The radiographers can advise if any hair loss is likely to be permanent.
Long term side effects of radiotherapy?
Long term side effects are classed as those that are present more than 3 months after radiotherapy and can last at least for months or even years after treatment has finished. The consultant’s team will have discussed with the patient, long term side effects when consenting for treatment. These are particular to the area where treatment is given.