How to Cope with the Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

woman laying on couch dealing with the side effects of radiation therapy

How to Cope with the Side Effects of Radiation Therapy


If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with cancer, it’s common to feel overwhelmed with concerns, questions, and emotions. When it comes to cancer treatments, often people feel that radiation therapy is an intimidating process and don’t know what to expect

One element to prepare for is the physical and emotional side effects of radiation therapy. While radiation therapy is an effective treatment option for many cancers, most people experience some sort of pain, fatigue, or other health changes. Many factors can influence your side effects, including the type and location of cancer, the radiation therapy dose, and the general health of each individual.

At Alabama Cancer Care, our goal is for you and your loved ones to be as prepared as possible for this new cancer journey. Below, we have outlined some common side effects of radiation therapy, and simple ways to cope with these symptoms. However, if you have specific questions about something you’re experiencing, please contact your local ALCC clinic


Common Side Effects of Radiation Therapy




Fatigue may be the most universal side effect of radiation treatment. It’s typical to feel excessively tired throughout the entirety of your cancer treatment. Many factors, such as stress, pain, or anemia, can cause or enhance your fatigue. 

Depending on the general health of each person, fatigue can range from mild to extreme. Feeling tired even after resting and not being able to complete routine tasks with the same energy you used to are both typical effects of cancer-related fatigue. 


Hair Loss and Skin Changes


Radiation therapy can cause hair loss because of the damage done to hair cells in your treatment area. Hair loss from radiation is not the same as hair loss from chemotherapy, which happens all over your body. Radiation therapy only causes hair loss in the area that’s being treated.

Skin changes can also occur in your treatment area. Because of frequent radiation treatment, healthy skin cells don’t have time to grow back and heal in between treatments. Some frequent skin changes you may experience are redness, severe itching, or dry and peeling skin.


Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea


Another common side effect of cancer treatment is nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you are having radiation therapy to the stomach area or brain, your risk for nausea-related symptoms increases. Additionally, radiation therapy harms the cells that line your intestines, which can make these areas increasingly sensitive.

While nausea and vomiting are common immediately following your treatment, diarrhea can occur at any time throughout the day. For nausea and vomiting, it’s likely that you’ll feel better on the days without radiation therapy.

Emotional Distress 


A cancer diagnosis has a significant impact on your emotional health. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are normal responses to such a life-changing diagnosis. These emotions are common, and are best dealt with by healthy and honest communication. 

When someone begins cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy, it can lead to fatigue, which can lead to emotional distress and anxiety. Radiation therapy does not only affect your body, but your thoughts and feelings, too. 


Coping with Your Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

At Alabama Cancer Care, we understand that a cancer diagnosis and radiation treatment plan are not things you expect to plan for or consider. That’s why we value giving you the resources you need, and the compassionate care that you deserve. 

Each person has their own unique health journey. After speaking with a trusted doctor, you can come up with a plan that is right for you and the side effects that you’re experiencing. However, when coping with side effects from radiation therapy, there are several universal recommendations for setting healthy boundaries and management of side effects.

Make a plan to balance rest and activity.

It’s important to have a balance of both rest and activity in your day. Getting eight hours of sleep and planning nap times throughout the day are critical in establishing times for rest. On the other hand, making simple exercise regimens, such as yoga or a walk, can help you stay active and your body in its best shape.

Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated.

Every day, plan to drink at least eight cups of water or juice, especially if you are frequently sick to your stomach. A common recommendation for dietary habits is to eat small meals throughout the day instead of three big meals. If you’re experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, eating foods that are high in salts can help to replace the salts you’re losing.

Practice healthy skincare.

Ask your doctor for specific recommendations for your skin and hair during cancer treatments. When it comes to lotions and other skin/hair products, you’ll want to ask your doctor what’s appropriate and helpful to use. Overall, you’ll want to be gentle with your skin and try not to rub or scratch the treatment area.

Prioritize your emotional health.

Keeping track of how you feel every day, letting others help you, and meeting with others in a support group are all helpful ways to process your emotions. Also, meeting with a licensed counselor can be a good strategy for you and your loved ones to evaluate your emotions, coping mechanisms, and mental health.

Keep your doctor up to date with how you’re feeling.

From struggling with nausea to feeling fatigued and depressed, talking with your doctor about your side effects is critical. Nothing is too small or too big to bring up to your doctor. Developing an honest relationship will allow you both to partner together for your cancer treatment plan. Additionally, you’ll want to speak with your doctor about the potential of late effects and follow-up care.


Alabama Cancer Care is an oncology and hematology practice offering understanding and skilled treatment for a wide range of illnesses. Alabama Cancer Care believes patient care starts with TRUST and HOPE. For more information, give us a call at the Alabama Cancer Care Center office nearest you. 

Contact us at our offices in Anniston at (256) 847-3369, Ft. Payne at (256) 845-3500, Gadsden at (256) 547-0536, Montgomery at (334) 273-8877, or Sylacauga at (256) 245-0297.