side effects of radiation therapy

Skin problems. Some people who receive radiation therapy experience dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. But these side effects often depend on which part of the body received radiation therapy. If you develop skin problem, they usually go away a few weeks after treatment has finished. If skin damage becomes a serious problem, the doctor may change your treatment plan.

Fatigue. Fatigue is feeling tired or exhausted almost all the time. Your level of fatigue depends on whether you are having other treatments, such as chemotherapy. Learn more about how to cope with fatigue.

Long-term side effects. Most side effects go away after treatment. But some continue, come back, or develop later. These late effects may include developing a second cancer. However, the risk of having a second cancer because of radiation therapy is low. This risk is often smaller than the benefit of treating the primary, existing cancer.

Head and neck. If radiation therapy is aimed at a person’s head and/or neck, they may experience these side effects:

Dry mouth

Mouth and gum sores

Difficulty swallowing

Stiffness in the jaw


A type of swelling called lymphedema

Tooth decay. Learn more about dental health during cancer treatment.

Chest. Radiation therapy aimed at the chest may cause these side effects:

Difficulty swallowing

Shortness of breath

Breast or nipple soreness

Shoulder stiffness

Cough, fever, and fullness of the chest. This is known as radiation pneumonitis and happens between 2 weeks and 6 months after radiation therapy

Radiation fibrosis, which is permanent scarring of the lungs from untreated radiation pneumonitis. The radiation oncologist knows how to lower the risk of fibrosis in the planning process.

Stomach and abdomen. Radiation therapy aimed at the stomach or abdomen may cause these side effects:

Nausea and vomiting


These symptoms will likely disappear after treatment. Your doctor can prescribe drugs for these side effects, and making changes to your diet may also reduce your discomfort.

Pelvis. Radiation therapy aimed at the pelvis may cause these side effects:


Rectal bleeding


Bladder irritation

In addition, radiation therapy to the pelvis can cause different symptoms for men and women.

For men:

Sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction, which is the inability to get or maintain an erection

Lowered sperm counts and reduced sperm activity from radiation therapy to the testes or prostate. This may affect the ability to father a child. Learn about ways to preserve your fertility.

For women:

Changes in menstruation, such as stopping menstruating

Symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal itching, burning, and dryness

Infertility, which is the inability to conceive a child or maintain a pregnancy, if both ovaries receive radiation. Learn about ways to preserve your fertility.