Radiation Therapy’s Effects on the Head, Neck, Chest, and Abdomen - dummies

Radiation Therapy’s Effects on the Head, Neck, Chest, and Abdomen

By Sarah Densmore

If you’re receiving radiation to fight cancer in your neck, you may develop trouble swallowing. If you’re radiation is targeting an abdominal tumor, you may have to fight bouts of diarrhea.

There are different types of radiation therapy. Some are administered from the outside and some are implanted inside the body. Also, the radioactive chemicals used can vary according to the treatment. Be sure to ask your doctor what type of side effects you can expect from your particular type of radiation therapy.

Because radiation therapy involves focusing strong beams of radioactive energy directly on the cancerous tumor and not throughout the body, most side effects occur in the immediate area where the radiation was directed.

Side effects of radiation on the head and neck

Radiation targeted to your head and neck can cause a host of difficulties inside your mouth and throat. These include: dryness, sores, decaying teeth, jaw pain, infections, throat pain, and difficulty swallowing. Although most mouth problems resolve when treatment ends, dry mouth and gum and teeth problems may become life long.

Eat soft, moist foods that are easier to swallow, such as mashed potatoes, oatmeal, gelatin, and protein drinks. Drink through a straw. Don’t eat hot, crunchy, salty, or acidic foods which can irritate your mouth and throat. Abstain from alcohol and all forms of tobacco.

Avoid dental floss, stiff toothbrushes, toothpicks, and forks. These can cut your gums.

Even if your jaw doesn’t hurt, you still need to keep it limber. Open and close your mouth as wide as you can several times a day.

Tell your doctor if you’re experiencing mouth, throat, or jaw pain. She may be able to prescribe pain killers and special gels that will coat your throat.

Side effects of radiation on the chest and breasts

If you receive radiation in your chest, it may affect your esophagus, causing you to experience difficulty swallowing. If so, you’ll need to adopt some to the meal-time behaviors mentioned earlier in this article.

Radiation therapy can also contract your airways, leaving you coughing and trying to catch your breath. Tell your doctor if this occurs. She may be able to prescribe steroids to relieve the problem.

Radiation following a lumpectomy or mastectomy can leave your breasts sore and swollen. The swelling and pain should subside after treatment. In the interim, going without a bra is the best option. If you can’t, be sure and choose a soft bra without under wires. If the swelling becomes chronic (a condition called lymphedema), talk with your doctor about employing physical therapy and compression bandages to combat the problem.

Side effects of radiation on the abdomen

Radiation therapy in your lower torso may cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and frequent urination.

If diarrhea is a problem, avoid foods that will exacerbate the problem. Stay away from high fiber foods like whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables. You might also find milk and coffee irritate your digestive tract. Drink more fluids and liquid foods so your diarrhea doesn’t cause you to become dehydrated.

Diarrhea can cause you to lose that all-important mineral potassium. Not having enough will cause you to experience everything from muscle cramps to an irregular heartbeat. If your doctor approves, take a potassium supplement or eat foods high in potassium, including bananas, potatoes, and peaches.

Nausea and vomiting usually develop 30 minutes to several hours after treatment. However, these symptoms usually occur only on the day of therapy.

If nausea is a problem for you, try eating a light snack an hour or so before treatment time. If your doctor wants you to follow a specific diet, stick to it. Generally, you can help keep nausea and vomiting at bay if you stay away from fried and fatty dishes and foods with strong smells. Eat small meals consisting of bland foods such as broth, rice, and gelatin until your stomach calms down.

You don’t have to suffer diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting in silence. Tell your doctor. She may be able to give you medicines that will ease your symptoms.

Radiation therapy targeting your urinary tract can cause you to experience pain during urination, incontinence, or feeling you can’t empty your bladder.

These problems normally subside a month or two after treatment. In the meantime, drink plenty of water or other clear liquids to flush out your system and stay away from bladder irritants like coffee and alcohol.

Tell your doctor if urination is painful or if you have blood in your urine. These symptoms could mean you have an infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

Many cancer patients receive both chemotherapy and radiation. If you’re one of them, you also need to consider that you may experience additional side effects from the chemotherapy.