Radiation Therapy: Side Effects

Radiation therapy or Radiotherapy is the medical use of ionizing drugs to control the cancer cells and for the treatment of the cancer. It has the ability to control the growth of the cells. It damages the DNA of the exposed tissues by disturbing their DNA repair machinery during the process of uncontrollable proliferation of tissues. It is commonly combined with the chemotherapy, Hormone therapy, Immunotherapy, or all the four can be used together. Many cancers can be treated by Radiotherapy. It is used in treatment of trigeminal neuralgia, severe thyroid eye disease, pterygium, pigmented villonodular synovitis, prevention of keloid scar growth, and prevention of heterotropic ossification. Well, this therapy is used cautiously because it may induce development of new set of cancers.

Radiation therapy is generally painless. There are actually very little or no side effects. But there can be pain due to edema which compresses the nerves in the area. Long term treatment may cause side effects which can last up to months or even years. There are acute side effects, long term side effects and cumulative side effects. Most of the side effects are normally predictable & expected. The side effects stated are fatigue & skin irritation, similar to a slight to a moderate sun burn. The fatigue usually is experienced in the middle of the treatment and may last for some years till the treatment continues.

The Severe Side Effects:

The Epithelial surface may damage due to radiation therapy. The epithelial surfaces include the oral mucosa, the skin, bowel mucosa, pharyngeal & ureter. The skin becomes pink & sore after several weeks of the treatment. The reactions become severe up to about 1 week after the radiation therapy ends & there is damage to the skin. Radiotherapy also causes mouth & throat sores and also causes ulceration which occurs in the throat & the mouth. It affects the patient’s efforts of swallowing, patient needs painkillers & nutritional supplements. Also the esophagus is affected during the cure of lung cancer.

Also the lower bowel is treated with radiotherapy or it may be exposed to the radiation. Due to this there is soreness, diarrhea, and nausea. Radiotherapy may also cause inflammation and swelling of the soft tissues. It is seen during the cure of brain tumors & brain metastasis when there is preexisting increased blood pressure. Steroids are used during this therapy to lessen the inflammation and swelling. Gonads are extremely sensitive to the radiation therapy. The development of gametes fails in case of exposure to radiation.

Late Side Effects:

It occurs months or years after the radiation treatment. Due to prolong exposure to the radiation, the elasticity of the skin is lost and it is prone to fibrosis. Hair loss occurs. Dry eyes and dry mouth are the consequences of the long term radiation therapy. Lymph edema is another side effect due to fluid retention and tissue swelling. Prolonged exposure itself leads to development of cancer. It increases the chances of heart disease.

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