Skip to content

    Cancer Health Center

    Font Size

    What to Expect From Radiation Therapy

    Will Radiation Therapy Cause My Hair to Fall Out?

    Only people who get radiation to the scalp or the brain may have hair loss. Others won't. If it does happen, it’s usually sudden and comes out in clumps. In most cases, your hair will grow back after therapy stops, but it may be thinner or have a different texture.

    Some people choose to cut their hair short before treatment begins to make less weight on the hair shaft. If you lose hair on top of your head, be sure to wear a hat or a scarf to protect your scalp from the sun when you go outside. If you decide to buy a wig, ask the doctor to write a prescription for one and check to see if it's covered by your insurance or is a tax-deductible expense.

    What Are Other Possible Early Side Effects From Radiation Therapy?

    Other early side effects you might have usually depend on where you get the radiation.

    Eating Problems

    Radiation therapy to the head, neck, or parts of the digestive system can make you lose your appetite. But it's important to keep eating a healthy diet while you’re having treatment to keep your body strong.

    • Try eating five or six small meals spread out through the day instead of three large ones.
    • Try new recipes or foods.
    • Keep healthy snacks on hand. It will help you eat when you're hungry rather than waiting for mealtimes and maybe losing your appetite.

    Mouth Problems

    Before you start radiation to your head or neck, see your dentist for a thorough exam. Radiation can cause problems in your mouth that include:

    • Mouth sores (little cuts or ulcers)
    • Lack of saliva
    • Thick saliva
    • Trouble swallowing
    • Jaw stiffness

    Tell your cancer team about any of these problems so they can help you feel better. To help manage these side effects:

    • Avoid spicy and acidic foods.
    • Don't smoke, chew tobacco, or drink alcohol.
    • Brush your teeth often with fluoride toothpaste and a soft brush.

    Hearing Problems

    Radiation therapy to the head can sometimes cause hearing problems. One reason might be that it hardens the wax in your ears. Let your doctor know if you have trouble hearing.

    Today on WebMD

    man holding lung xray
    What you need to know.
    stem cells
    How they work for blood cancers.
    woman wearing pink ribbon
    Separate fact from fiction.
    Colorectal cancer cells
    Symptoms, screening tests, and more.
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    what is your cancer risk
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    prostate cancer overview
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    Actor Michael Douglas