Side effects of radiotherapy for secondary breast cancer

Side effects of radiotherapy

When you have radiotherapy to improve symptoms, the side effects are not usually too troublesome.

Radiotherapy can make you feel tired. This sometimes lasts for a few weeks after treatment finishes. Other side effects depend on the area of your body being treated and how much radiotherapy you have.

Always tell your nurse or radiographer about any side effects. There are usually ways in which they can be treated or managed. Side effects stop or improve gradually when treatment finishes.

Radiotherapy to the bones

Radiotherapy can shrink a secondary cancer in the bones, strengthen the bone and reduce pain. It may take three to four weeks before it works so you need to carry on taking painkillers during this time.

Feeling very tired is a common side effect. This should gradually improve a few weeks after treatment finishes. Try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. It helps to balance this with some gentle exercise, such as short walks, if possible.

You may feel sick if the area treated is close to your tummy, for example the ribs or spine. Your doctor can prescribe anti-sickness drugs to control any sickness.

Radiotherapy to the brain

Radiotherapy helps to shrink a secondary cancer in the brain and improve the symptoms. You may have up to two weeks of treatment.

It causes some hair loss but this is usually temporary. Your hair should start to grow back within a few months after the treatment has finished. The skin on your scalp may also become dry and feel irritated. Your nurse or radiographer will give you advice on looking after the skin.

You may feel very sleepy or drowsy for a few weeks. Tiredness can continue for weeks or months after treatment. Get plenty rest but try to take regular short walks to help give you more energy.

Radiotherapy to the brain may make you feel sick or be sick. Your doctor can prescribe anti-sickness tablets or steroids to control this.

Occasionally a type of radiotherapy called stereotactic radiotherapy is used to treat small brain tumours. But it is only available in some specialist hospitals and isn’t suitable for everyone. It delivers high doses of radiation accurately targeted to the tumour causing less damage to surrounding tissue.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.