Tips for Managing Side Effects

The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy cancer cells, but it can also injure or destroy healthy cells, which can cause some side effects. Your radiation doctor will explain any possible side effects before your treatment begins.
It is important to note that the possible side effects you may experience are directly related to the area of the body receiving treatment. For example, radiation therapy can cause hair loss only in the area of the body that is being treated.
Early or acute side effects from radiation therapy are treatable and usually go away a few weeks after your treatment ends. Fatigue, loss of appetite, and skin irritation are examples of acute side effects. Late or long-term side effects may or may not occur. They take months or years to develop and can be permanent. For example, high doses of radiation can cause permanent hair loss and damage to the skin in the treatment area. You should always tell your treatment team about any symptoms or side effects you have. Your radiation nurse can give you specific information on how to manage those side effects.

Skin Reactions

Skin reactions are common during radiation therapy. Please follow these skin
care instructions while you are receiving radiation treatment.
  • Wash your skin in the treatment area with warm water and an
  • unscented moisturizing soap once a day. Be gentle—do not scrub.
  • If you bathe, limit baths to two times a week. Bathe for less than 30
  • minutes.
  • Pat your skin dry.
  • Don’t use heating pads, ice packs, or bandages on the area getting
  • radiation.
  • Don’t use tanning beds.
  • Use moisturizer two to three times a day. Consult your nurse on which
  • moisturizers work best. Avoids oils or oil-based products.
  • Do not use anything on the skin in the treatment area (e.g., after-shave
  • lotion, perfume, makeup, or deodorant).
  • Only use an electric razor in the treatment area.
  • Wear loose clothing to avoid friction or tightness in the treatment area.
  • Wear clothes made of soft fabrics like cotton.
  • Protect your skin from the sun.
  • Apply sunscreen to your skin before you go outside. Be sure to wash
  • sunscreen off prior to treatment.


Fatigue is a common side effect of radiation therapy regardless of which part of the body is treated. Your body is working very hard to heal and repair itself, so be sure to get plenty of sleep at night. You may also need to go to bed earlier or take a nap during the day. Let family members and friends help with daily chores. Sometimes light exercise, like walking, can help you feel less tired. Ask your doctor or nurse about starting an exercise program.

Changes in Appetite

You may notice changes in your appetite during your radiation treatment. It is very important that you eat well to help lessen the side effects of cancer therapy. Eat foods that are high in protein and calories to maintain your weight and strength. You should always check with your doctor or nurse before taking vitamins or other supplements.

Hair Loss

Radiation therapy can cause hair loss in the area of the body that is being treated. Many patients find that their hair grows back several months after treatments stop. The new hair may be different in color or texture. Whether or not your hair grows back depends on the type and dose of radiation you receive and the area of your body that was treated.