5 Short-Term Radiation Side Effects You Should Know

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Every breast cancer patient has an individualized treatment plan curated by their medical team. This may include surgery like a lumpectomy or mastectomy, hormone therapy, chemo therapy, or radiation (also called radiotherapy).

If your doctor recommends radiation, there is a chance you will experience both short-term and long-term side effects, as with any treatment. But, compared to chemotherapy, radiotherapy is a lot easier to deal with and comes with fewer potential issues.

Radiation can be used on its own or in combination with other treatments or surgeries, and can be used before or after a surgery, depending on the stage of your cancer and your doctors’ recommendations. Despite its many positive attributes though, it is often misunderstood by breast cancer patients. To check out some common misconceptions, read our article here.

The goods news is that radiation only affects a very precise, targeted area, and your doctor will select a dose that will be the most effective without damaging as much healthy tissue as possible. However, sensitivity varies from patient to patient, and there’s no way to accurately predict which patients will have what reactions. Most acute (or short-term) side effects begin a couple weeks after treatment starts and will dissipate a few months after treatment ends. However, some side affects won’t show up until months or years after your treatment. (To learn about long-term effects, visit our article here.)

If you have a higher dose of radiation, your chances of getting side effects are more likely — but if you get too low of a dose of radiation, it won’t be as effective against the cancer and could leave cancer cells alive.

Here are some short-term side effects to be aware of.

Skin reactions

As mentioned above, radiation targets a very specific area, so any skin problems that occur will only develop in one place. Radiation can damage some healthy tissue in addition to eradicating cancer cells, and this can make your skin blister, peel, become itchy and dry, feel rough to the touch, or appear red, as if sunburned.

These symptoms typically start about 10-14 days after you begin radiation.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/rufar

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/rufar

Factors that can exacerbate skin reactions to radiation include:

  • the dose of radiation you’re given
  • how long treatment lasts
  • your skin type (if it’s sensitive, dry, oily, etc.) and any pre-existing skin conditions (such as eczema)
  • your age
  • lifestyle factors (such as being overweight or smoking)
  • undergoing chemotherapy at the same time

It is not uncommon to temporarily pause your radiation schedule to allow your skin to heal, if the side effects are too painful or interefere with your day-to-day life.

Click “NEXT” to learn about more short-term side effects.

C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.
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