Possible side effects

Side effects of radiotherapy vary, depending on how much treatment you have. Your hospital team can tell you what to expect – and how to cope with any side effects you do experience.

Common side effects include:

  • Tiredness – balancing rest and activity is important during your treatment.
  • Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick – your doctor can prescribe anti-sickness drugs if this happens.
  • Hair loss – this only occurs in the area being treated and is usually temporary.
  • Skin reaction – the area being treated may become red or feel sore or itchy.

These effects will usually disappear gradually once your treatment is over. Always tell your healthcare team about your side effects.

Sometimes, radiotherapy can have long-term side effects. But these are rare and depend on the part of the body treated. Ask your specialist to tell you about any possible long-term effects.

Side effects of radiotherapy for lymphoma

Radiotherapy often causes tiredness. Other side effects will depend on the part of your body being treated.

Any treatment to your tummy (abdomen) can cause stomach upsets such as feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting) or diarrhoea. Treatment to the head can cause hair loss. Radiotherapy to the neck can make your mouth or throat sore. You may also notice that some foods taste different.

The side effects can vary depending on how much treatment you have. Your hospital team will tell you what to expect.

Radiotherapy can have long-term side effects. These are rare and will vary depending on the part of the body treated. You can ask your specialist to tell you about any possible long-term effects.


Tiredness

Not everyone feels tired during radiotherapy treatment but many people do. Some people are able to continue working, but others need to take time off work.

Tiredness (sometimes called fatigue) can continue for weeks to months after your treatment has finished. It can often be made worse by having to travel to hospital each day, or by other treatments such as chemotherapy.

Balancing rest and activity throughout the day is important, as your body needs time to recover from the treatment.

We have more information about coping with fatigue.


Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting)

Some people find their treatment makes them feel sick, and sometimes they may actually be sick. Your doctors can prescribe effective anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs if this happens.

If you don’t feel like eating very much, let your specialist nurse or doctor know. They may suggest that you try adding nutritious, high-calorie drinks to your diet. You may also be referred to a dietitian who can prescribe these drinks and give advice about how to maintain weight if you’ve lost your appetite.


Hair loss

Although radiotherapy can cause hair loss, this only occurs in the area being treated. For example, if you have radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in your neck, you may lose the hair on the back of the neck. Radiotherapy to the nodes in the chest may make the hair on your chest fall out.

When you have finished the course of treatment, your hair will usually grow back. It normally takes between six and twelve months, depending on the dose of radiotherapy and the length of treatment.

All these side effects will usually disappear gradually once your radiotherapy treatment is over. Let your doctor know if they continue.

Radiotherapy does not make you radioactive and it is perfectly safe for you to be with other people, including children, throughout your treatment.


Skin reaction

During your treatment, avoid using soaps, perfumes and lotions on your skin other than those advised by the radiotherapy staff. After a few treatments skin around the area being treated with radiotherapy may become red or darken and may feel sore or itchy. If you develop a skin reaction, tell the radiotherapy staff as soon as possible. They will advise you on the best way to manage it.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Who might I meet?

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