Radiotherapy to the pelvic area can sometimes cause long-term side effects (late effects). However, improvements in how radiotherapy is given have reduced the risk of some late effects. If you do have any late effects there are lots of ways in which they can be managed or treated.
Changes to the vagina
Radiotherapy to the pelvic area can cause vaginal dryness and narrow the vagina, which can make having sex or an internal examination uncomfortable. Your specialist nurse or radiographer will usually talk to you about ways of trying to prevent narrowing (such as using vaginal dilators) and creams to treat dryness.
Changes to the bowel or bladder
Some women may develop permanent changes to the bowel or bladder. Symptoms generally develop from six months to two years after radiotherapy treatment, although in some people it may be years later. If your bowel is affected, you may have to go the toilet more often than usual, or you may have diarrhoea.
Sometimes, the bladder shrinks after radiotherapy and can’t hold as much, so you’ll need to pass urine more often. The blood vessels in the bowel and bladder can become more fragile, and if this happens you may get blood in your urine or bowel movements.
Always let your doctor, radiographer or specialist nurse know if you have any changes to your bladder and bowel so they can be checked out.
Radiotherapy and surgery to remove the pelvic lymph nodes may increase the risk of swelling (lymphoedema) in one, or occasionally both, legs. This isn’t common, but you can read about ways to reduce the risk of lymphoedema here. Your doctor, radiographer or specialist nurse can also give you information and support.