Damage and Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is used frequently during conventional cancer treatments. The high-energy radiation damages your cells’ DNA, attempting to destroy their ability to grow and divide.
Radiation is delivered using machines, called accelerators, or by using radioactive sources that are placed in your body, temporarily or permanently.
The idea behind radiation is that by damaging the cancer cells’ DNA, it will cause enough damage that it can’t be repaired, which causes the cancer cells to die.
While this idea is good in theory, it also damages the healthy cells around the cancer cells causing serious short-term and long-term damage. It’s no surprise that blasting cancer with radiation damages the body and causes even more cancer to develop. In fact, it is even admitted on the National Cancer Institute website that radiation therapy causes cancer!
What does medical radiation do to your body?
General Short-Term Damage and Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
- Damage to skin causing skin problems, such as:
- Salivary Gland Damage
- Damage to area being treated (example: hair loss if head and neck are treated, or urinary problems when the lower abdomen is treated)
Short-Term Damage and Side Effects of Radiation Therapy to the Specific Areas that Radiation is being Directed
- Dry mouth
- Sores in the mouth and gum area
- Tooth decay
- Trouble swallowing
- Jaw stiffness
- Trouble swallowing
- Breathing difficulties
- Cough, fever
- Radiation pneumonitis which is the acute manifestation of Radiation-Induced Lung Disease (RILD) – if left untreated, can cause radiation fibrosis (below)
- Radiation fibrosis (scarring on the lungs that is permanent from radiation pneumonitis)
- Breast/nipple pain and soreness
- Urinary and/or Fecal Incontinence
- Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine
- Fecal incontinence is the inability to control your bowel movements, causing stool to leak from your rectum unexpectedly
- Rectal bleeding and diarrhea
- Fertility Issues for Men:
- Impotence and other sexual problems
- Lowered sperm counts and reduced sperm activity
- Fertility Issues for Women:
- Changes in menstruation
- Symptoms of menopause such as:
- Vaginal itching
Long-Term Damage and Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
- Damage to the heart and lungs from radiation to the chest
- Because of the short-term damage to sexual organs, the ability to get pregnant or father a child may be lost
- Non healing wounds
- Fluid build-up and swelling in parts of the body (called lymphedema)
- Nerve damage
- Memory Loss
- Bowel Damage (causing diarrhea or bleeding)
- Secondary cancer, especially;
- Multiple Myeloma
- Thyroid Cancer
- Bladder Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
Chemotherapy causes many of the same side effects as radiation therapy. So if you are doing both, you’re probably feeling worse than if you were just doing one or the other.