Side effects from radiation therapy occur both soon after treatment and potentially many months or years later. Acute side effects usually subside once treatment is concluded, while chronic effects might not appear until much later.
Acute side effects include:
- Skin irritation around the treated area
- Damage to salivary glands (when exposure is near the face or head)
- Hair loss
- Difficulty urinating (when exposure is near the lower abdomen).
Chronic side effects include:
- Fibrosis: A condition in which damaged tissue is replaced by scar tissue, which restricts movement, causing discomfort
- Intestinal damage
- Memory loss
- Risk of a second cancer due to radiation exposure (very rarely)
Radiation therapy is often performed in conjunction with chemotherapy, which can cause other side effects.