If you're scheduled to begin radiation treatments for cancer, you may be worried about dealing with side effects. While you may have heard stories from people who have had bad side effects, you should know that everyone is different, and you won't know how your body will react until you take the treatments. You may not have serious side effects, but you should expect to feel some fatigue, nausea, and skin irritation. Knowing these conditions may develop will help you plan for them in advance so you can deal with them better. Here are a few tips that might help.
Dealing With Fatigue
Fatigue is a very common side effect of radiation therapy. You may feel exhausted even though you sleep more than usual. Therefore, you should prepare in advance for the days when you will be too tired to go about your usual activities. Some things that might help include hiring a cleaning service for a few months while you're in treatment so you don't have to waste energy cleaning your house, preparing and freezing meals in advance, and accepting help from family and friends. If you have a support group of people who can help you run your home and take care of pets and kids, you'll be able to get the rest you need when you're too exhausted to get out of bed.
Nausea is another common problem you may experience. Nausea can be particularly bothersome because it might interfere with your ability to maintain good nutrition and enough calorie intake. If nausea keeps you from eating, or if you experience vomiting too, let your doctor know. He or she may want to give you medication to keep your nausea under control. Otherwise, you could eat foods like crackers and ginger ale that are known to be easy on the stomach when you are nauseated. Smells might make your nausea worse. You may not be able to cook or be in the kitchen while food is cooking. You may want to have food delivered or eat out so you can avoid strong odors. You may also want to avoid foods with strong smells and strong flavors and settle for bland foods until your nausea problem passes.
Maintaining Healthy Skin
The area of your skin that is exposed to the radiation beam will probably be sore or itchy after the treatments. The soreness is similar to how a sunburn feels, and your skin will probably be red just like it is with a burn. Use moisturizer on your skin to keep it from drying out. Protect it from the sun, as the heat and UV rays will make the burning sensation worse. If the area is exposed, cover it with sunblock. If it is under your skin, wear loose cotton clothing as much as possible so friction doesn't make your skin sore. If itching is a problem, you can apply ointment you buy over the counter, but if itching is severe, or if you have peeling in the area, let your doctor know. Your doctor may want to prescribe medications to soothe your skin and keep it from hurting and itching.
You may not experience these side effects, or you may have other conditions. The side effects you have depend on a number of variables, including where the radiation beam is directed on your body. Also, the side effects may not show up right away. Since you will have several treatments spread out over several weeks, side effects may begin at any time and last for a few weeks after the treatments end.