Side Effects of IMRT Treatments

Side Effects of IMRT Treatments

Cancer is an extremely complicated and problematic disease that causes an immense load of stress and suffering for millions of people and their loved ones. While cancer will always be a difficult experience to endure, understanding what you or a loved one might be going through can help a ton.

One of the specific treatments patients undergo is called intensity-modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT. Not only would it help to understand what IMRT is, it would also help a significant amount to know the side effects associated with IMRT so you can understand what you or a loved one might experience during the treatment period.

What is IMRT?

IMRT is an advanced mode of radiation therapy that uses computer-controlled liner accelerators to deliver very precise radiation doses to a certain area affected by cancer cells, a malignant tumor, or a particular section of the tumor. Additionally, IMRT controls, or modulates, the intensity of the radiation beam in multiple small volumes, which allows the dose the ability to conform more accurately to the specific shape and size of the tumor. This lessens, and sometimes even prevents, the amount of radiation that affects surrounding areas with healthy tissues and organs.

Because of the decreased levels of radiation exposed to the areas adjacent to the area that needs to be treated, there’s less of a risk for side effects to take place compared to the conventional side effects of radiation therapy.

Of course, some side effects still exist, and understanding them can be critical for best preparing for the experience of battling cancer. So, here are the common and possible side effects associated with undergoing IMRT.

Early Side Effects – depending on the area being treated and the number of treatments you undergo, some of the early side effects that you might experience are:

·       Issues with the skin including increased sensitivity, redness, irritations, rashes, swelling, blistering, peeling, itching, and dryness,

·       Tiredness, exhaustion, and general fatigue,

·       Soreness, swelling, and possible numbness in and around the treatment area,

·       Headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting,

·       Suppressed appetite, eating problems, and digestion issues,

·       Hair loss in and around the treatment area,

·       Mouth problems and difficulties with swallowing,

·       Urinary problems and bladder problems,

·       And dry eyes, dry mouth, and dry throat.

Later Side Effects – also depending on the area being treated, later side effects occur months or years after the treatments and often times are permanent, but certainly rarer than early side effects. Later side effects include:

·       Changes to the brain, spinal cord, lungs, kidneys, or the colon and rectal systems,

·       Changes to the mouth and digestive system,

·       Changes to joints affected by radiation,

·       Infertility,

·       Lymphedema,

·       And in rare cases, a secondary cancer.

At the end of the day, the side effects depend on many individual factors such as your specific medical condition, your general health, other treatments you may receive during the same time frame, and how sessions of IMRT you undergo. So, each individual patient will have slightly different risks and side effects from their treatment depending on their particular circumstances.

Additionally, it is important to remember that you will be under the supervision and guidance of a doctor, or team of doctors, that are there to help you through the process. You will most likely meet with them at least once every week in order to assess your progress as you undergo your treatments, so don’t be scared to take that opportunity to tell the doctor about any possible side effects that concern you. Battling cancer is a very tough experience, and understanding what’s going on might help a little with the stress, which can make a huge difference – so, don’t be hesitant when it comes to asking for help! 

By Russell McBurnie