Cancer is a terrible ailment to suffer from. It affects every single part of the patient’s life and they need all kinds of support they can get through this period of difficulty. Due to recent breakthroughs in medical science, there has been a discovery of ways in which this previously incurable disease can be cured. Radiation therapy is one of the options. But with phrases like; ‘there’s no such thing as free lunch’, one cannot help but wonder what the catch is when it comes to radiation therapy.
Despite having increasingly successful results, radiation therapy has been known to have very drastic side effects on the patient’s body. This is due to the fact that it does not differentiate between diseased cells and healthy cells thus killing the healthy ones in the process. The health effects of radiation therapy depend greatly on which part is being treated and are greatly variable in their number, time of occurrence and intensity. Here are some of the most common ones that patients experience.
Different parts of the human body have different responses to being exposed to radiation therapy. A brief overview of the general parts of the body and the way they respond is:
- It is almost inevitable that any area which is exposed to radiation therapy will undergo temporary and sometimes even inevitable hair loss. Extreme fatigue and nausea are also symptoms that are experienced very early on in the therapy process.
- Head and neck region: If this area is exposed to the therapy, the patient may undergo thickening of saliva and will therefore find it difficult to swallow. A sore throat and jaw and earaches are also common. In addition to this, there may be a change in the way food tastes as well.
- Chest: Radiation in this area usually leads to difficulty in swallowing, shortness of breath occurring very easily and a persistent cough.
- Abdomen: The abdomen usually reacts to the treatment by becoming sensitive which leads to nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
- Pelvis: Treatment of this area may result in a disturbed sex life, diarrhea or an irritable bladder which brings about a constant need to urinate.
Since the skin comes into contact with the radiation therapy directly, it is the most exposed region. As a result, the skin in any part that is being affected tends to take on a red or sun burnt look after the therapy occurs. In addition to this, the skin may also become swollen or develop blisters which leads to itchiness and flakiness. In order to protect your skin during and after treatment and to ensure minimum damage, you can take the following steps:
- Do not wear tight clothing particularly in the area that is being treated.
- Since your skin is extra sensitive during this time, be certain to ask your doctor before using any soaps, lotions, deodorants or perfumes.
- Protect your skin from the sun. This is because the radiation will tend to make it extra irritable by sunlight. Try to wear dark clothing when you go out or ask your doctor to prescribe a sunscreen lotion that you can apply regularly.
Radiation therapy which is directed to the head, neck or abdomen can lead to a difficulty in swallowing or a change in the way your food tastes as mentioned before. This results in a loss of appetite. However, it is essential that you eat healthily while undergoing the treatment to keep your body strong enough to heal. Try new and exciting recipes or eat small meals throughout the day including snacks you enjoy in order to bring back your interest in food.