Side effects usually build up slowly after you start treatment. They may continue to get worse for a couple of weeks after treatment. But after this, most side effects improve gradually over the next few weeks.
Your doctor, nurse, or radiographer will talk to you about this. They will explain what to expect and give you advice on what you can do to manage side effects. Always tell them about your side effects. There are usually things they can do to help. We list the common side effects here, but you may not get all of these.
We have more detailed information about pelvic radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy causes tiredness, especially towards the end of treatment. It may last for a couple of months or longer after treatment has finished. Make sure you get plenty of rest. But try to balance this with regular physical activity, such as short walks. This will help give you more energy.
Effects on the skin
The skin in the treated area may become red (if you have light skin) or darker (if you have dark skin). It may also become dry, flaky, and itchy. Sometimes the skin around the back passage (rectum) and scrotum becomes moist and sore. The radiographer or your specialist nurse will tell you how to look after the skin in the treated area. They can prescribe a cream or dressings and painkillers if you need them. Always tell them if your skin is sore or you have other changes.
Your pubic hair may fall out. It usually starts to grow back a few weeks after you have finished treatment. It may be thinner than before.
Effects on the bladder
Radiotherapy can also cause inflammation of the bladder (cystitis). You may:
- feel you want to pass urine (pee) more often
- have a burning feeling
- have urgency when you pass urine.
Your doctor can prescribe medicines to help. Drinking 2 to 3 litres (3½ to 5½ pints) of fluids a day can help. Avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol.
These side effects usually disappear slowly a few weeks after treatment has finished.
Occasionally, men may have difficulty passing urine and need to have a tube put into the bladder to drain urine (urinary catheter). Rarely, some men may have some leakage of urine (incontinence). Let your nurse or radiographer know if this happens.
Some men who had urinary problems when they were diagnosed may find these improve a while after their radiotherapy finishes.
Effects on the bowel
Radiotherapy to the prostate can irritate the back passage (rectum) and bowel. You may get diarrhoea, wind and cramping pains in your tummy (abdomen). Your doctor can prescribe medicines to help control these side effects. Some men get pain in the back passage and may have some bleeding.
If you have diarrhoea, drink at least 2 to 3 litres (3½ to 5½ pints) of fluids a day. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Your nurse or radiographer may advise you to make some changes to your diet during treatment, such as eating less fibre.