Written by Dr. Sangamithra, MBBS | 

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ramya Ananthakrishnan, MD on Jul 28, 2021

Radiotherapy - Side Effects

Radiotherapy is painless. Low dose treatments cause minimal side effects but treatment with high dose can cause variable side effects. But these effects go away in time and there are ways to reduce these effects.

Acute side effects: There is damage to epithelial surfaces of the skin, mouth, pharynx and bowel mucosa. Apart from soreness, diarrhea and nausea are commonly seen. The recovery is usually quite quick but in some cases the patient may need painkillers and nutritional support

  • Odema & erythema: swelling of the soft tissues is encountered during radiotherapy. Red rashes are seen in the area of treatment. Surgical intervention may be considered prior to treatment with radiation or the patient is given steroids to reduce swelling
  • Infertility: The gonads (ovaries and testicles) are very sensitive to radiation. They will be unable to produce gametes following the radiotherapy

Long term side effects

  • Fibrosis: some of the tissues become less elastic due to the treatment
  • Hair loss: in case of radiotherapy to the head and neck region there is permanent hair loss
  • Dryness: Dry mouth (xerostomia) and dry eyes (xerophthalmia) are the common problems witnessed after radiotherapy
  • Secondary malignancies: Radiation is a cause of cancer, and secondary malignancies are seen in a small minority of patients, generally many years after they have received a curative course of radiation treatment.
  • Fetal damage is seen in case of pregnant woman

Radiotherapy lowers the immunity status of the patient and increases the susceptibility of infection.

  • Skin problems: various levels of skin problems are encountered such as skin pain, sloughing of the outer layer of the skin (desquamation), hyperpigmentation, itching (pruritus) etc


  1. About Cancer - (http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/help/ default.asp?page=166)
  2. WHAT IS RADIOTHERAPY? - (http://www.cancernet.co.uk/rxt-what.htm)


nizamzualiz Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There is opinion saying Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy treatment are not actually killing the cancer cells but the cells are kept [or maybe deactivated] for a period of time... It will strike back. At that point of time, we may be able to do the same treatment/s, but the attack usually more severe than the first. Possibly, the patient may have no energy to go through the second episode of treatment (due to age and/or tiredness and/or cost incurred). If you are not lucky, the second cancer will strike due to the treatment itself. So, instead of killing the cancer cells the treatment may create second cancer. Appreciate comments please

faranak Saturday, February 11, 2012

could IMRT done near an organ cause the organ a condition that can not be transplanted if needed?

linac Saturday, July 17, 2010

can i ask what's the difference between conventional fractionated XRT versus stereotactic radiosurgery vs external beam radiation therapy?

ahpeng Friday, April 16, 2010

My skin is itchy and scratches now and then please advise

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