Radiotherapy is a common treatment for many types of cancer, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer. While radiotherapy is an effective way to destroy cancer cells, it can also cause long-term side effects that can affect a patient's quality of life. Here are some of the main long-term side effects of radiotherapy that cancer patients and survivors should be aware of:
One of the most common side effects of radiotherapy is skin irritation and changes in the skin, including dryness, redness, and itchiness. In some cases, the skin may become darker or more sensitive to the sun. These side effects can last for months or even years after the treatment has ended.
Radiotherapy can also cause fatigue, which is characterized by a feeling of extreme tiredness and a lack of energy. This side effect can last for several months after the treatment has ended and can be especially challenging for patients who are trying to resume their normal daily activities.
Lymphedema is a condition that can occur after radiation therapy for breast cancer. It is caused by damage to the lymph nodes, which can result in swelling in the arm, hand, or breast. Lymphedema can develop several months or even years after the treatment has ended.
Radiotherapy can also cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women. In men, radiotherapy to the pelvic area can damage the nerves and blood vessels that are responsible for erections, while in women, it can cause vaginal dryness and narrowing, making sex painful or uncomfortable.
Bone and joint problems
Radiation therapy can also cause long-term bone and joint problems, such as osteoporosis, joint pain, and stiffness. These side effects can occur years after the treatment has ended and can be especially challenging for older cancer survivors.
Heart and lung problems
Radiation therapy to the chest area can cause long-term heart and lung problems, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and an increased risk of heart disease. These side effects can develop months or even years after the treatment has ended.
Radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvic area can cause digestive problems, such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These side effects can last for several weeks after the treatment has ended and can be especially challenging for patients who are trying to maintain a healthy diet.
Radiation therapy to the brain can cause cognitive problems, such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and confusion. These side effects can be especially challenging for cancer survivors who are trying to return to work or resume their normal daily activities.
It is important for cancer patients and survivors to be aware of the potential long-term side effects of radiotherapy and to discuss any concerns with their healthcare team. While some side effects can be managed with medication or lifestyle changes, others may require more specialized care. By working closely with their healthcare team, cancer patients and survivors can take steps to manage these side effects and maintain their overall health and well-being.