What Happens After Radiation Therapy?

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Cancer may be one of the scariest words in the English language. Your medical team may present chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery as treatment options, each of which may add to the terror. For many patients, radiation therapy sounds counter-intuitive, since many people regard radiation as being a common cause of cancer. Oncologists (cancer specialists) and radiation technologists are well trained and know what amounts of radiation are safe and effective to use to benefit a patient. Our article entitled “Safe Radiation Treatment for Cancer” will help you learn more about what to expect during radiation treatment, but what can one expect after radiation therapy?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when thinking about any medical treatment is that everyone’s body may react differently to different treatments. While there may be common experiences, nothing is guaranteed to happen or not happen. It is standard for an oncologist to recommend follow-up appointments after radiation therapy. These follow-up appointments will address the effectiveness of treatment, plans for further treatment, rehabilitation, and any concerns that may have arisen. Follow-up appointments are a good place to ask any questions you may not have thought to ask before therapy began.

It is common for side effects to be present following radiation therapy. Some patients may experience fatigue while their bodies recuperate from the therapy. Some patients may experience side effects specific to the area in which treatment was focused, such as hair loss or skin sensitivity. These areas may require some extra TLC following treatment. Many patients experience pain following sessions that may be severe enough to require treatment. Unless otherwise instructed by your medical team, you should not treat post radiation therapy pain with heat or cold.

While there is not necessarily a “normal” post radiation therapy experience, there are signs that are generally regarded as concerning. If you experience any of the following, contact your medical team.

  • Pain that doesn’t seem to go away or gets worse

  • Newly developed lumps or areas of swelling

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or trouble swallowing

  • Unexpected, rapid weight loss

  • Persistent fever or cough

  • Unexplained or severe bruising, bleeding, or rashes

Your medical team will inform you of any site-specific warning signs to look out for. It is the goal of your cancer care team to not only fight the cancer inside your body, but to help you regain your overall wellness. If you have any questions or concerns about your progress, contact a member of your medical team.

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