Managing radiation therapy side effects

Radiation therapy can treat many cancers, but it can also injure healthy cells at or near the treatment area. This can lead to side effects. Before recommending any treatment, the radiation oncologist will consider whether the potential benefits outweigh the possible side effects. To minimise side effects, a range of new techniques have made radiation therapy highly precise.

This section provides information and tips to help you manage some common side effects of radiation therapy. These may include fatigue, skin problems, appetite loss, nausea, mouth and throat problems, bladder and bowel problems, hair loss, and infertility.

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Preparing for side effects

Some people experience many side effects, while others have very few or none. Side effects can vary even among people having the same type of radiation therapy to the same part of the body. Many factors can affect the type and severity of side effects, including:

  • the part of the body treated
  • the type of radiation therapy
  • the dose of radiation needed
  • any other treatments you might be having
  • your general health.

Most side effects that occur during treatment are manageable. Before treatment begins, your radiation therapy team will discuss how to look after the treatment area, the side effects to watch out for or report, ways to manage them, and who to contact after hours if you need help.

If you have severe side effects, the radiation oncologist may change the treatment or arrange a break. They may not recommend these options if it would affect how well the treatment works.

It is important to maintain your general health during treatment. People who have diabetes need to manage their condition so it doesn’t affect their recovery – see your GP before treatment starts.

Trying complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are designed to be used alongside conventional medical treatments. Therapies such as relaxation and mindful meditation can reduce anxiety and improve your mood.

Let your radiation oncologist know about any therapies you are using or thinking about trying, as some may not be safe. This includes over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and creams, which may affect the way radiation therapy works or make side effects worse. You may also need to avoid massaging the treatment area. 

For more on this, see Complementary therapies.


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To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

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Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

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  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in December 2019
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