You may develop side effects during your treatment. Side effects build up slowly when you start treatment. They usually disappear gradually over a few weeks or months after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or radiographer will discuss this with you so you know what to expect. Let them know about any side effects you have during or after treatment. There are often things they can do to help.
Side effects caused by smoking
The side effects of radiotherapy are made worse by smoking. Smoking will also make your treatment less effective. Your cancer doctor or nurse will advise you to try to stop smoking. They can give you support and advice.
We have more information about giving up smoking.
Radiotherapy can make you feel very tired (fatigue). Try to get as much rest as you can, especially if you have to travel a long way for treatment. Balance this with some physical activity, such as short walks, which will give your more energy.
Diarrhoea and passing wind
Radiotherapy is likely to cause changes in how your bowel works. This can cause problems such as diarrhoea or passing more wind than usual. Your doctor can prescribe medicines to help.
Your nurse or radiographer may give you advice about avoiding certain foods. Or a dietitian at the hospital can give you advice about this. We have more information about eating problems and cancer, including coping with diarrhoea and wind.
You may experience a stinging sensation when you open your bowels. Your doctor can prescribe local anaesthetic creams to help with this. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any pain.
It’s likely that your skin will be sore in the area being treated.
This usually happens 2 to 3 weeks after treatment starts. You may have soreness around the anus and in the groin. Men may also have soreness in the scrotum. Women may also have soreness in the vulva. If you have IMRT, your doctor may be able to avoid these areas. This means that skin reactions are usually milder.
The radiographer or nurse will check the area and tell you how to look after your skin. It’s important to follow the advice they give you and only use products they recommend.
Sometimes the skin may become blistered and sore, which can be painful. Your doctor can prescribe painkillers, creams and dressings to help with this. The skin reaction may get worse towards the end of treatment and for up to 6 weeks afterwards. It usually heals quickly after that.
If your skin reaction makes passing urine painful, your doctor may suggest you have a fine tube (catheter) put into your bladder to drain the urine. They will remove this once your skin has healed.
Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis)
Radiotherapy to the anal area may cause inflammation of the lining of the bladder. This can make you feel you want to pass urine more often. It also gives you a burning sensation when you pass urine.
It helps to drink plenty of water and other fluids to make your urine less concentrated. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to make passing urine more comfortable.
Some people may feel sick (nauseous) during treatment. This is usually mild, and anti-sickness drugs (anti-emetics) can usually control it.
If you don’t feel like eating, you can replace meals with nutritious, high-calorie drinks. These are available from most chemists and your doctor can also prescribe them. It’s important to try to drink plenty of fluids.
Most people lose their pubic hair. It should grow back after your treatment finishes, although the hair loss may be permanent.