Side Effects the Same for Everyone?
The side effects of radiation treatment vary from
patient to patient. You may have no side effects
or only a few mild ones through your course of
treatment. Some people do experience serious side
effects, however. The side effects that you have
depend mostly on the radiation dose and the part
of your body that is treated. Your general health
also can affect how your body reacts to radiation
therapy and whether you have side effects. Before
beginning your treatment, your doctor and nurse
will discuss the side effects you might
experience, how long they might last, and how
serious they might be.
Side effects may be
acute or chronic. Acute side effects are sometimes
referred to as "early side effects." They occur
soon after the treatment begins and usually are
gone within a few weeks of finishing therapy.
Chronic side effects, sometimes called "late side
effects," may take months or years to develop and
usually are permanent.
The most common early
side effects of radiation therapy are fatigue and
skin changes. They can result from radiation to
any treatment site. Other side effects are related
to treatment of specific areas. For example,
temporary or permanent hair loss may be a side
effect of radiation treatment to the head.
Appetite can be altered if treatment affects the
mouth, stomach, or intestine. This chapter
discusses common side effects first. Then the side
effects that involve specific areas of the body
Fortunately, most side
effects will go away in time. In the meantime,
there are ways to reduce discomfort. If you have a
side effect that is especially severe, the doctor
may prescribe a break in your treatments or change
your treatment in some way.
Be sure to tell your
doctor, nurse, or radiation therapist about any
side effects that you notice. They can help you
treat the problems and tell you how to lessen the
chances that the side effects will come back. The
information in this booklet can serve as a guide
to handling some side effects, but it cannot take
the place of talking with the members of your
health care team.
Will Side Effects
Limit My Activity?
Not necessarily. It will depend on which side
effects you have and how severe they are. Many
patients are able to work, prepare meals, and
enjoy their usual leisure activities while they
are having radiation therapy. Others find that
they need more rest than usual and therefore
cannot do as much. Try to continue doing the
things you enjoy as long as you don't become too
Your doctor may
suggest that you limit activities that might
irritate the area being treated. In most cases,
you can have sexual relations if you wish. You may
find that your desire for physical intimacy is
lower because radiation therapy may cause you to
feel more tired than usual. For most patients,
these feelings are temporary. (See "Sexual
Relations" later in this section.)
Fatigue, feeling tired and lacking energy, is the
most common symptom reported by cancer patients.
The exact cause is not always known. It may be due
to the disease itself or to treatment. It may also
result from lowered blood counts, lack of sleep,
pain, and poor appetite.
Most people begin to
feel tired after a few weeks of radiation therapy.
During radiation therapy, the body uses a lot of
energy for healing. You also may be tired because
of stress related to your illness, daily trips for
treatment, and the effects of radiation on normal
cells. Feelings of weakness or weariness will go
away gradually after your treatment has been
You can help yourself
during radiation therapy by not trying to do too
much. If you do feel tired, limit your activities
and use your leisure time in a restful way. Save
your energy for doing the things that you feel are
most important. Do not feel that you have to do
everything you normally do. Try to get more sleep
at night, and plan your day so that you have time
to rest if you need it. Several short naps or
breaks may be more helpful than a long rest
exercise such as walking may combat fatigue. Talk
with your doctor or nurse about how much exercise
you may do while you are having therapy. Talking
with other cancer patients in a support group may
also help you learn how to deal with fatigue.
If you have a
full-time job, you may want to try to continue to
work your normal schedule. However, some patients
prefer to take time off while they're receiving
radiation therapy; others work a reduced number of
hours. Speak frankly with your employer about your
needs and wishes during this time. A part-time
schedule may be possible or perhaps you can do
some work at home. Ask your doctor's office or the
radiation therapy department to help by trying to
schedule treatments with your workday in mind.
Whether you're going
to work or not, it's a good idea to ask family
members or friends to help with daily chores,
shopping, child care, housework, or driving.
Neighbors may be able to help by picking up
groceries for you when they do their own shopping.
You also could ask someone to drive you to and
from your treatment visits to help conserve your
How Are Skin
You may notice that your skin in the treatment
area is red or irritated. It may look as if it is
sunburned, or tanned. After a few weeks your skin
may be very dry from the therapy. Ask your doctor
or nurse for advice on how to relieve itching or
With some kinds of
radiation therapy, treated skin may develop a
"moist reaction," especially in areas where there
are skin folds. When this happens, the skin is wet
and it may become very sore. It's important to
notify your doctor or nurse if your skin develops
a moist reaction. They can give you suggestions on
how to care for these areas and prevent them from
becoming infected. Other tips on skin care can be
found in the section on external radiation
therapy you will need to be very gentle with the
skin in the treatment area. The following
suggestions may be helpful:
- Avoid irritating
- When you wash,
use only lukewarm water and mild soap; pat dry.
- Do not wear
tight clothing over the area.
- Do not rub,
scrub, or scratch the skin in the treatment
- Avoid putting
anything that is hot or cold, such as heating
pads or ice packs, on your treated skin.
- Ask your doctor
or nurse to recommend skin care products that
will not cause skin irritation. Do not use any
powders, creams, perfumes, deodorants, body
oils, ointments, lotions, or home remedies in
the treatment area while you're being treated
and for several weeks afterward unless approved
by your doctor or nurse.
- Do not apply any
skin lotions within 2 hours of a treatment.
- Avoid exposing
the radiated area to the sun during treatment.
If you expect to be in the sun for more than a
few minutes you will need to be very careful.
Wear protective clothing (such as a hat with a
broad brim and a shirt with long sleeves) and
use a sunscreen. Ask your doctor or nurse about
using sunblocking lotions. After your treatment
is over, ask your doctor or nurse how long you
should continue to take extra precautions in the
The majority of
skin reactions to radiation therapy go away a few
weeks after treatment is completed. In some cases,
though, the treated skin will remain slightly
darker than it was before and it may continue to
be more sensitive to sun exposure.
What Can Be Done
About Hair Loss?
Radiation therapy can cause hair loss, also known
as alopecia, but only in the area being
treated. For example, if you are receiving
treatment to your hip, you will not lose the hair
from your head. Radiation of your head may cause
you to lose some or all of the hair on your scalp.
Many patients find that their hair grows back
again after the treatments are finished. The
amount of hair that grows back will depend on how
much and what kind of radiation you receive. You
may notice that your hair has a slightly different
texture or color when it grows back. Other types
of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, also
can affect how your hair grows back.
Although your scalp
may be tender after the hair is lost, it's a good
idea to cover your head with a hat, turban, or
scarf. You should wear a protective cap or scarf
when you're in the sun or outdoors in cold
weather. If you prefer a wig or toupee, be sure
the lining does not irritate your scalp. The cost
of a hairpiece that you need because of cancer
treatment is a tax-deductible expense and may be
covered in part by your health insurance. If you
plan to buy a wig, it's a good idea to select it
early in your treatment if you want to match the
color and style to your own hair.
How are Side
Effects on the Blood Managed?
Radiation therapy can cause low levels of white
blood cells and platelets. These blood cells
normally help your body fight infection and
prevent bleeding. If large areas of active bone
marrow are treated, your red blood cell count may
be low as well. If your blood tests show these
side effects, your doctor may wait until your
blood counts increase to continue treatments. Your
doctor will check your blood counts regularly and
change your treatment schedule if it is necessary.
Eating Be a Problem?
Sometimes radiation treatment causes loss of
appetite and interferes with eating, digesting,
and absorbing food. Try to eat enough to help
damaged tissues rebuild themselves. It is not
unusual to lose 1 or 2 pounds a week during
radiation therapy. You will be weighed weekly to
monitor your weight.
It is very important
to eat a balanced diet. You may find it helpful to
eat small meals often and to try to eat a variety
of different foods. Your doctor or nurse can tell
you whether you should eat a special diet, and a
dietitian will have some ideas that will
help you maintain your weight.
Coping with short-term
diet problems may be easier than you expect. There
are a number of diet guides and recipe booklets
for patients who need help with eating problems. A
National Cancer Institute booklet, "Eating Hints
for Cancer Patients" explains how to get more
calories and protein without eating more food. It
also has many tips that should help you enjoy
eating. The recipes it contains can be used for
the whole family and are marked for people with
special concerns, such as low-salt diets. (To
obtain this booklet, see the section at the end of
this page, "Additional Resources for Cancer
If it's painful to
chew and swallow, your doctor may advise you to
use a powdered or liquid diet supplement. Many of
these products are available at drugstores and
supermarkets and come in a variety of flavors.
They are tasty when used alone or combined with
other foods such as pureed fruit, or added to
milkshakes. Some of the companies that make these
diet supplements have recipe booklets to help you
increase your nutrient intake. Ask your nurse,
dietitian, or pharmacist for further information.
You may lose interest
in food during your treatment. Fatigue from your
treatments can cause loss of appetite. Some people
just don't feel like eating because of stress from
their illness and treatment or because the
treatment changes the way food tastes. Even if
you're not very hungry, it's important to keep
your protein and calorie intake high. Doctors have
found that patients who eat well can better cope
with having cancer and with the side effects of
treatment. Medications for appetite enhancement
are now available; ask your doctor or nurse about
The list below
suggests ways to perk up your appetite when it's
poor and to make the most of it when you do feel
- Eat when you are
hungry, even if it is not mealtime.
- Eat several
small meals during the day rather than three
- Use soft
lighting, quiet music, brightly colored table
settings, or whatever helps you feel good while
- Vary your diet
and try new recipes. If you enjoy company while
eating, try to have meals with family or
friends. It may be helpful to have the radio or
television on while you eat.
- Ask your doctor
or nurse whether you can have a glass of wine or
beer with your meal to increase your appetite.
Keep in mind that, in some cases, alcohol may
not be allowed because it could worsen the side
effects of treatment. This may be especially
true if you are receiving radiation therapy for
cancer of the head, neck, or upper chest area
including the esophagus.
- Keep simple
meals in the freezer to use when you feel
- If other people
offer to cook for you, let them. Don't be shy
about telling them what you'd like to eat.
- Keep healthy
snacks close by for nibbling when you get the
- If you live
alone, you might want to arrange for "Meals on
Wheels" to bring food to you. Ask your doctor,
nurse, social worker, or local social service
agencies about "Meals on Wheels." This service
is available in most large communities.
If you are able to
eat only small amounts of food, you can increase
the calories per serving by:
- Adding butter or
- Mixing canned
cream soups with milk or half-and-half rather
- Drinking eggnog,
milkshakes, or prepared liquid supplements
- Adding cream
sauce or melted cheese to your favorite
Some people find
they can drink large amounts of liquids even when
they don't feel like eating solid foods. If this
is the case for you, try to get the most from each
glassful by making drinks enriched with powdered
milk, yogurt, honey, or prepared liquid
Therapy Affect Me Emotionally?
Nearly all patients being treated for cancer
report feeling emotionally upset at different
times during their therapy. It's not unusual to
feel anxious, depressed, afraid, angry,
frustrated, alone, or helpless. Radiation therapy
may affect your emotions indirectly through
fatigue or changes in hormone balance, but the
treatment itself is not a direct cause of mental
You may find that it's
helpful to talk about your feelings with a close
friend, family member, chaplain, nurse, social
worker, or psychologist with whom you feel at
ease. You may want to ask your doctor or nurse
about meditation or relaxation exercises that
might help you unwind and feel calmer.
programs can help cancer patients to meet others
who share common problems and concerns. Some
medical centers have formed peer support groups so
that patients can meet to discuss their feelings
and inspire each other.
There are several
helpful books, tapes, and videos on dealing with
the emotional effects of having cancer. You may
find that the National Cancer Institute
publication, "Taking Time," is a good resource for
this kind of information. (To obtain this booklet,
see the section at the end of this page, "Additional
Resources for Cancer Information.")
The Cancer Information
Service (1-800-4-CANCER) can direct you to reading
matter and other resources in your area for
Side Effects Occur With Radiation Therapy to the
Head and Neck?
Some people who receive radiation to the head and
neck experience redness, irritation, and sores in
the mouth; a dry mouth or thickened saliva;
difficulty in swallowing; changes in taste; or
nausea. Try not to let these symptoms keep you
Other problems that
may occur during treatment to the head and neck
are a loss of taste, which may diminish appetite
and affect nutrition, and earaches (caused by
hardening of ear wax). You may notice some
swelling or drooping of the skin under your chin
as well as changes in the skin texture. Your jaw
may also feel stiff and you may be unable to open
your mouth as wide as before treatment. Jaw
exercises may help ease this problem. Report all
side effects to your doctor or nurse and ask what
you should do about them.
If you are receiving
radiation therapy to the head or neck, you need to
take especially good care of your teeth, gums,
mouth, and throat. Side effects from treatment to
these areas commonly involve the mouth, which may
be sore and dry. Here are a few tips that may help
you manage mouth problems:
- Avoid spices and
coarse foods such as raw vegetables, dry
crackers, and nuts.
- Remember that
acidic foods and liquids can cause mouth and
- Don't smoke,
chew tobacco, or drink alcohol.
- Stay away from
sugary snacks because they can promote tooth
- Clean your mouth
and teeth often, using the method your dentist
or doctor recommends.
- Use only
alcohol-free mouthwash; many commercial
mouthwashes contain alcohol which has a drying
effect on mouth tissues.
Radiation treatment for head and neck cancer can
increase your chances of getting cavities in your
teeth. Mouth care designed to prevent problems
will be a very important part of your treatment.
Before starting radiation therapy, make an
appointment for a complete dental/oral checkup.
Ask your dentist and radiation oncologist to
consult before your radiation treatments begin.
Your dentist probably will want to see you often
during your radiation therapy to help you care for
your mouth and teeth. This is a good way to reduce
the risk of tooth decay and help you deal with
possible problems such as soreness of the tissues
in your mouth. It's important that you follow the
dentist's advice while you're receiving radiation
therapy. Most likely, your dentist will suggest
- Clean your teeth
and gums thoroughly with a soft brush at least 4
times a day (after meals and at bedtime).
- Use a
fluoride toothpaste that contains no
- Floss gently
between teeth daily if you flossed regularly
before your illness. Use waxed, non-shredding
- Rinse your mouth
gently and frequently with a salt and baking
soda solution especially after you brush. Use
1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking
soda in a large glass of warm water. Follow with
a plain water rinse.
- Apply fluoride
regularly as prescribed by your dentist.
Your dentist can
explain how to mix the salt and baking soda
mouthwash and how to use the fluoride treatment
method that best suits your needs. You can
probably get printed instructions for proper
dental care at the dentist's office. If dry mouth
continues after your treatment is complete, you
will need to continue the mouth care recommended
during treatment. Always share your dentist's
instructions with your radiation nurse.
Mouth or Throat Problems
Soreness in your mouth or throat may appear in the
second or third week of external radiation therapy
and it will most likely have disappeared within a
month or so after your treatments have ended. You
may have trouble swallowing during this time
because your mouth feels dry. Your doctor or
dentist can prescribe medicine for mouth
discomfort and tell you about methods to relieve
other mouth problems during and following your
radiation therapy. If you wear dentures you may
notice that they no longer fit well. This occurs
if the radiation causes your gums to swell. You
may need to stop wearing your dentures until your
radiation therapy is over. It's important not to
risk denture-induced gum sores because they may
become infected and heal slowly.
Your salivary glands
may produce less saliva than usual, making your
mouth feel dry. Unfortunately dry mouth may
continue to be a problem even after treatment is
over. You may be given medication to help lessen
this side effect. It's helpful to sip cool drinks
throughout the day. Although many radiation
therapy patients have said that drinking
carbonated beverages helps relieve dry mouth,
water probably is your best choice. In the
morning, fill a large container with ice, add
water, and carry it with you during the day so
that you can take frequent sips. Keep a glass of
cool water at your bedside at night, too.
Sugar-free candy or gum also may help; be careful
about overuse of these products as they can cause
diarrhea in some people. Avoid tobacco and
alcoholic drinks because they tend to dry and
irritate your mouth tissues. Moisten food with
gravies and sauces to make eating easier. If these
measures are not enough, ask your dentist,
radiation oncologist, or nurse about products that
either replace or stimulate your own saliva.
Artificial saliva and medication to increase
saliva production are available.
You may find that it's difficult or painful to
swallow. Some patients say that they feel as if
something is stuck in their throat. Soreness or
dryness in your mouth or throat can also make it
hard to eat. The earlier section on eating
problems in this booklet may be helpful. In
addition, some of the following tips may help to
make eating more comfortable:
- Choose foods
that taste good to you and are easy to eat.
- Try changing the
consistency of foods by adding fluids and using
sauces and gravies to make them softer.
- Avoid highly
spiced foods and textures that are dry and
rough, such as crackers.
- Eat small meals,
and eat more frequently than usual.
- Cut your food
into small, bite-sized pieces.
- Ask your doctor
for special liquid medicines to reduce the pain
in your throat so that you can eat and swallow
- Ask your doctor
about liquid food supplements that are easier to
swallow than solids. They can help you get
enough calories each day to avoid losing weight.
- If you are being
treated for lung cancer, it's important to keep
mucus and other secretions thin and manageable;
drinking extra fluids can help.
- If familiar
foods no longer taste good, try new foods and
use different methods of food preparation.
suggestions can be found in the NCI booklet,
"Eating Hints for Cancer Patients."
What Side Effects
Occur With Radiation Therapy to the Chest?
Radiation treatment to the chest may cause several
changes. For example, you may find that it is hard
to swallow or that swallowing hurts. You may
develop a cough or a fever. You may notice that
when you cough the amount and color of the mucus
is different. Shortness of breath is also common.
Be sure to let your treatment team know right away
if you have any of these symptoms. Remember that
your doctor and nurse have seen these changes in
many radiation patients and they know how to help
you deal with them.
Are There Side
Effects With Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer?
The most common side effects with radiation
therapy for breast cancer are fatigue and skin
changes. However there may be other side effects
as well. If you notice that your shoulder feels
stiff, ask your doctor or nurse about exercises to
keep your arm moving freely. Other side effects
include breast or nipple soreness, swelling from
fluid buildup in the treated area, and skin
reddening or tanning. Except for tanning which may
take up to 6 months to fade, these side effects
will most likely disappear in 4 to 6 weeks.
If you are being
treated for breast cancer and you are having
radiation therapy after a lumpectomy or
mastectomy, it's a good idea to go without your
bra whenever possible or, if this makes you more
uncomfortable, wear a soft cotton bra without
underwires. This will help reduce skin irritation
in the treatment area.
after a lumpectomy may cause additional changes in
the treated breast after therapy is complete.
These long-term side effects may continue for a
year or longer after treatment. The skin redness
will fade, leaving your skin slightly darker, just
as when a sunburn fades to a sun tan. The pores in
the skin of your breast may be enlarged and more
noticeable. Some women report increased
sensitivity of the skin on the breast; others have
decreased feeling. The skin and the fatty tissue
of the breast may feel thicker and firmer than it
was before your radiation treatment. Sometimes the
size of your breast changes--it may become larger
because of fluid buildup or smaller because of the
development of scar tissue. Many women have little
or no change in size.
Your radiation therapy
plan may include temporary implants of radioactive
material in the area around your lumpectomy. A
week or two after external treatment is completed,
these implants are inserted during a short
hospitalization. The implants may cause breast
tenderness or a feeling of tightness. After they
are removed, you are likely to notice some of the
same effects that occur with external treatment.
If so, let your doctor or nurse know about any
problems that persist.
Most changes resulting
from radiation therapy for breast cancer are seen
within 10 to 12 months after completing therapy.
Occasionally small red areas called
telangiectasias appear. These are areas of
dilated blood vessels and the color may fade with
time. If you see new changes in breast size,
shape, appearance, or texture after this time,
report them to your doctor at once.
Side Effects Occur With Radiation Therapy to the
Stomach and Abdomen?
If you are having radiation treatment to the
stomach or some portion of the abdomen, you may
have an upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea. Your
doctor can prescribe medicines to relieve these
problems. Do not take any medications for these
symptoms unless you first check with your doctor
It's not unusual to feel queasy for a few hours
right after radiation treatment to the stomach or
abdomen. Some patients find that they have less
nausea if they have their treatment with an empty
stomach. Others report that eating a light meal 1
to 2 hours before treatment lessens queasiness.
You may find that nausea is less of a problem if
you wait 1 to 2 hours after your treatment before
you eat. If this problem persists, ask your doctor
to prescribe a medicine (an antiemetic) to
prevent nausea. If antiemetics are prescribed,
take them within the hour before treatment or when
your doctor or nurse suggests, even if you
sometimes feel that they are not needed.
If your stomach feels
upset just before every treatment, the queasiness
or nausea may be caused by anxiety and concerns
about cancer treatment. Try having a bland snack
such as toast or crackers and apple juice before
your appointment. It may also help to try to
unwind before your treatment. Reading a book,
writing a letter, or working a crossword puzzle
may help you relax.
Here are some other
tips to help an unsettled stomach:
- Stick to any
special diet that your doctor, nurse, or
dietitian gives you.
- Eat small meals.
- Eat often and
try to eat and drink slowly.
- Avoid foods that
are fried or are high in fat.
- Drink cool
liquids between meals.
- Eat foods that
have only a mild aroma and can be served cool or
at room temperature.
For severe nausea
and vomiting, try a clear liquid diet (broth and
clear juices) or bland foods that are easy to
digest, such as dry toast and gelatin.
What to Do
Diarrhea may begin in the third or fourth week of
radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis. You
may be able to prevent diarrhea by eating a low
fiber diet when you start therapy: avoid foods
such as raw fruits and vegetables, beans, cabbage,
and whole grain breads and cereals. Your doctor or
nurse may suggest other changes to your diet,
prescribe antidiarrhea medicine, or give you
special instructions to help with the problem.
Tell the doctor or nurse if these changes fail to
control your diarrhea. The following changes in
your diet may help:
- Try a clear
liquid diet (water, weak tea, apple juice, clear
broth, plain gelatin) as soon as diarrhea starts
or when you feel that it's going to start.
- Ask your doctor
or nurse to advise you about liquids that won't
make your diarrhea worse. Weak tea and clear
broth are frequent suggestions.
- Avoid foods that
are high in fiber or can cause cramps or a gassy
feeling such as raw fruits and vegetables,
coffee and other beverages that contain
caffeine, beans, cabbage, whole grain breads and
cereals, sweets, and spicy foods.
- Eat frequent
- If milk and milk
products irritate your digestive system, avoid
them or use lactose-free dairy products.
- Continue a diet
that is low in fat and fiber and lactose-free
for 2 weeks after you have finished your
radiation therapy. Gradually re-introduce other
foods. You may want to start with small amounts
of low-fiber foods such as rice, bananas,
applesauce, mashed potatoes, low-fat cottage
cheese, and dry toast.
- Be sure your
diet includes foods that are high in potassium
(bananas, potatoes, apricots), an important
mineral that you may lose through diarrhea.
Diet planning is
very important for patients who are having
radiation treatment of the stomach and abdomen.
Try to pack the highest possible food value into
every meal and snack so that you will be eating
enough calories and vital nutrients. Remember that
nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are likely to
disappear once your treatment is over.
What Side Effects
Occur With Radiation Therapy to the Pelvis?
If you are having radiation therapy to any part of
the pelvis (the area between your hips), you might
have some of the digestive problems already
described. You also may have bladder irritation
which can cause discomfort or frequent urination.
Drinking a lot of fluid can help relieve some of
this discomfort. Avoid caffeine and carbonated
beverages. Your doctor also can prescribe some
medicine to help relieve these problems.
The effects of
radiation therapy on sexual and reproductive
functions depend on which organs are in the
radiation treatment area. Some of the more common
side effects do not last long after treatment is
finished. Others may be long-term or permanent.
Before your treatment begins, ask your doctor
about possible side effects and how long they
Depending on the
radiation dose, women having radiation therapy in
the pelvic area may stop menstruating and have
other symptoms of menopause such as vaginal
itching, burning, and dryness. You should report
these symptoms to your doctor or nurse, who can
Scientists are still studying how radiation
treatment affects fertility. If you are a woman in
your childbearing years, it's important to discuss
birth control and fertility issues with your
doctor. You should not become pregnant during
radiation therapy because radiation treatment
during pregnancy may injure the fetus, especially
in the first three months. If you are pregnant
before your therapy begins, be sure to tell your
doctor so that the fetus can be protected from
radiation, if possible.
Radiation therapy to
the area that includes the testes can reduce both
the number of sperm and their effectiveness. This
does not mean that conception cannot occur,
however. Ask your doctor or nurse about effective
measures to prevent pregnancy while you are having
radiation. If you have any concerns about
fertility, be sure to discuss them with your
doctor. For example, if you want to have children,
you may be concerned about reduced fertility after
your cancer treatment is completed. Your doctor
can help you get information about the option of
banking your sperm before treatment.
With most types of radiation therapy, neither men
nor women are likely to notice any change in their
ability to enjoy sex. Both sexes, however, may
notice a decrease in their level of desire. This
is more likely to be due to the stress of having
cancer than to the effects of radiation therapy.
Once the treatment ends, sexual desire is likely
to return to previous levels.
treatment to the pelvis, some women are advised
not to have intercourse. Others may find that
intercourse is uncomfortable or painful. Within a
few weeks after treatment ends, these symptoms
usually disappear. If shrinking of vaginal tissues
occurs as a side effect of radiation therapy, your
doctor or nurse can explain how to use a dilator,
a device that gently stretches the tissues of the
vagina.If you have questions or concerns about
sexual activity during and after cancer treatment,
discuss them with your nurse or doctor. Ask them
to recommend booklets that may be helpful.