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Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

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During Treatment

Many women feel mildly to moderately tired during radiation therapy, especially as treatments progress. Treatment for cancer can be stressful and the daily trips to the hospital take a lot of energy. Try to rest as much as you can and plan your activities at levels that are comfortable for you. Don't push yourself. It is especially important to eat properly while you are having radiation treatments, because your body needs wholesome food to restore its strength and to repair injured cells. It's also important for you to maintain your weight. Even if you are overweight, do not try to lose weight until you have finished all of your treatments.

The skin around the treated area may begin to look reddened, irritated, tanned, or sunburned. In some women the skin becomes quite dry; in others it becomes very moist, especially under the breast fold. These side effects are most likely to occur toward the end of treatment.

Be gentle with your skin. Try not to irritate it. Don't use perfumed or deodorant soaps, ointments, or anything besides lukewarm water and plain soap (such as Ivory) on your breast. Some women wear soft cotton bras, without wiring, or go braless whenever possible. Some like to wear a soft T-shirt or other loose clothing.

Your doctor and nurse will be watching you closely as treatment progresses. Be sure to mention any side effects you may have.

After Treatment

You may notice other changes in your breast due to the radiation therapy and changes may continue for 6 to 12 months after treatment. As the redness goes away, you will notice a slight darkening of the skin-as when a sunburn fades to a suntan. The pores may be enlarged and more noticeable.

You may have some change in skin sensitivity-some women report increased sensation, others have decreased feeling. The skin and the fatty tissue of the breast may feel thicker, and you may notice that your breast is firmer than it was before your radiation treatment. Some older women have said that their breast feels and looks as it did when they were in their twenties. Others report a change in the size of the treated breast-it may become larger because of fluid buildup or smaller because of development of fibrous tissue, but many women have little or no change at all.

After 10 to 12 months, you should notice few additional changes caused by the radiation therapy. If changes in size, shape, appearance, or texture occur after this time, report them to your doctor at once.

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