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Side effects will depend on the part of your body being treated and how much radiotherapy| you’re having.
Usually with radiotherapy that’s given to improve symptoms (palliative radiotherapy), the side effects aren’t too troublesome. This is especially true if you’re only having one or two treatments. Radiotherapy will make you feel tired, and this can last for some weeks after your treatment finishes.
Usually radiotherapy to treat melanoma that has spread to the bones| causes very few side effects. Radiotherapy to certain areas of the body, such as the ribs or the spine, may make you feel a bit sick. This can be controlled by taking anti-sickness drugs (anti-emetics) for a couple of days. Your specialist will prescribe these for you.
The skin in the area being treated may become red (if you have white skin) or darken (if you have black or brown skin), but this will improve after your treatment finishes. You’ll be given advice on looking after your skin, and your specialist can prescribe cream if your skin is uncomfortable.
Other side effects will depend on the part of the body being treated. For example, if you’re having radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in your neck, this can cause a dry mouth and sore throat. Your doctor can prescribe painkillers and artificial saliva products to ease these symptoms. Sticking to soft or liquid foods will make swallowing easier.
Radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in your groin may cause side effects such as discomfort when you pass urine (cystitis) and the feeling that you need to pass urine more often. Drinking lots of fluids can help, and mild painkillers will ease the discomfort. You may get some diarrhoea but this can usually be well controlled with tablets.
Radiotherapy to the brain can make you feel drowsy, especially towards the end of your treatment. It also causes hair loss in the area being treated, which can be upsetting. Your hair may start growing back a few months after treatment but, for some people, hair loss may be permanent.
You will usually be given a course of steroids to take during and after your radiotherapy treatment. Steroids help to reduce swelling caused by the radiotherapy treatment.
These side effects will improve when your treatment is finished. Let your doctor, nurse or radiographer know about any side effects you are having. There are lots of ways in which they can be relieved.
Content last reviewed: 15 February 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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