radiation, radiation therapy, side effects of radiation

It is a very well-known thing that cancer can be quite a difficult disease to battle against. So, in the case that you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with some type of cancer, you should do whatever you might be able to do to ease the fight a little. For most people, preparing for what you should expect to happen during your battle can make a huge difference.

One of the more difficult aspects of cancer that patients tend to struggle with is managing the side effects of radiation. So, if you or your loved one is to undergo radiation therapy, you can prepare yourself by learning what to expect from the side effects.

So, to help, we’ve put together a list of the 6 most common side effects that you should prepare to experience along with a quick explanation of what they entail. Here it is:

1.    Fatigue and Tiredness

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects that cancer patients experience. It is often caused by the cancer itself, the chemotherapy, low blood counts, depression, poor sleep, and not eating. Fatigue might not be a nutrition problem in itself, but it often leads to negative effects on your diet as you are often too exhausted to eat or prepare nutritious meals. Fatigue is important to talk about with your doctor if you are struggling with its effects.

2.    Constipation

People also experience less than 3 bowel movements per week, which is considered to be constipation. Constipation is the result of a few things involved with cancer. It usually has to do with the lack of exercising, the pain medications (and others), lack of fiber in your diet, insufficient amounts of liquid intake, or just the stress. Always report any concerns about constipation to your doctor.

3.    Dry Mouth and Thick Saliva

Dry mouth and thickened saliva is usually only a temporary issue that patients experience after receiving this form of therapy and some forms of chemo, as they affect the salivary glands by decreasing the saliva produced in your mouth. Saliva is important as it moisturizes your mouth as well as maintains healthy teeth and gums. If you experience prolonged dry mouth and thick saliva, don’t be scared to bring it up to your doctor.

4.    Nausea and Vomiting

Again, as one of the more common side effects, many of the patients that undergo radiation therapy experience nausea and vomiting. This can also be caused by chemo, stress, anxiety, and certain medications. Nausea can be worsened if the patient eats when they feel nauseous, so try to eat when you feel the best throughout the day. Eating 6-8 smaller meals rather than 3 normal meals can help avoid nausea.

5.    Diarrhea

While some patients experience constipation, others experience diarrhea. Diarrhea is also an unfortunate side effect, but it can also be caused by infections and food sensitivities, so don’t hesitate to let your doctor know if you are experiencing diarrhea.

6.    Decreased Appetite and Taste Changes

Possibly the most common side effect of radiation therapy is a decreased appetite as it is not only caused by treatment itself, but it is also triggered by most of the other side effects. Changes in taste also occurs during cancer treatment. These changes also lead a decreased appetite because it makes foods more bitter, metallic, and sometimes salty tasting. It is important to keep eating even when you might not feel like doing so as food is equally important to any medication or treatment that might help you.

At the end of the day, it is absolutely important to be as best prepared for your experience with cancer as possible to make the fight a little easier. Whether you are preparing for which side effects might affect you, or looking for the answer to questions like “what is radiation?” you need to keep up the preparation, as it can be the key to your battle. 

By Russell McBurnie

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