The potential side effects of radiotherapy vary according to many variables. Our patients are informed by their primary doctor about the side effects that may develop during and after the treatment. These side effects are mostly transient and they disappear after said treatment is complete. We may use medication that can relieve or alleviate the complaints. Side effects should be regarded as transient problems that develop in almost all patients rather than unfavorable negative indications that the treatment in question is problematic.
Radiotherapy influences the healthy cells that are located within the target volume. Location and dimensions of the target volume are also important and side effects are more common with larger volumes. Daily dose, total dose, and concomitant medications may vary the side effects of radiotherapy. Physical condition and age of the patient as well as employed radiotherapy techniques are all directly linked to the manifested side effects.
Dermal side effects are directly proportional to the dose increase and they develop during the late phases of the treatment. The risk of side effects is higher for armpit, neck, anus and mouth cavity, as the skin tissue in those areas is particularly thin; with the thinner skin folds it is difficult to ensure hygiene and ventilation. Side effects that are initially manifested by mild redness, similar to a sunburn, may develop into open and purulent wounds. Radiotherapy over the head and neck area may negatively influence the teeth and subsequently the risk of caries increases. Therefore, regular dentist visits are very important. Mouth tissues are susceptible to radiation and resulting sores are more likely; this fact indicates the necessity of proper oral care. Other common conditions include dry mouth and difficulty swallowing secondary to decreased production of saliva.
A patient’s taste may be effected and skin wounds can be visible during neck radiotherapy. Alcohol and smoking should be avoided throughout the treatment due to exacerbating effects. Other side effects include lack of appetite, changes in voice, hair loss, difficulty swallowing secondary to radiotherapy of the chest wall, nausea, and vomiting as well as fatigue, tiredness, shortness of breath and dry cough. Diarrhea is among the most common side effect if the radiotherapy is focussed on the stomach, abdomen, and pelvis. Gastric cramps and bloating can be associated with nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, weight loss and dysuria.