- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Radiation therapy
- Managing radiation therapy side effects
- How long side effects may last
How long side effects may last
Radiation therapy can cause side effects during and just after treatment – these are called short-term or acute effects. It can also cause long-term or late effects months or years down the track.
Learn more about:
Side effects often build up gradually during treatment and it could be a few days or weeks before you notice anything. Often the full impact comes at the end of treatment or even a week or two afterwards.
During treatment, tell your radiation oncology team about any side effects, as side effects can usually be controlled with the right care and medicine. Most side effects are temporary and go away in time, usually within a few weeks of treatment finishing.
I read a lot about all the negative side effects you might get from radiation therapy, but I’ve had no long-term side effects.
Radiation therapy can also cause effects months or years after treatment. These late effects are usually mild, they may come and go, and they may not have any major impact on your daily life. However, they may be more significant. Some may go away or improve on their own, while others may be permanent and need to be treated or managed.
Very rarely, years after successful treatment, patients can develop a new unrelated cancer in or near the area treated. The risk of this late effect is very low, but other factors, such as continuing to smoke or very rare genetic conditions, can increase this risk.
Radiation therapy to the chest, particularly when combined with chemotherapy, may lead to an increased risk of heart problems. Newer radiation therapy techniques have reduced the risk, however, talk to your doctor about your heart health. If you develop heart problems later in life, make sure you let your doctors know you had radiation therapy.
Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, and Dean, RANZCR Faculty of Radiation Oncology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Patricia Hanley, Consumer; Prof Michael Hofman, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Physician, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Leanne Hoy, Cancer Nurse Consultant, GenesisCare, VIC; Sharon King, Accredited Practising Dietitian, TAS; Dr Yoo Young (Dominique) Lee, Radiation Oncology Consultant, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Wendy Phillips, Senior Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Katrina Rech, Radiation Therapist and Quality Systems Manager, GenesisCare, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.