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What to Expect From Radiation Therapy

What Are Other Possible Early Side Effects From Radiation Therapy? continued...

Mouth Problems

Before you start radiation to the head or neck, see your dentist for a thorough exam to help reduce subsequent problems once therapy starts. Radiation can cause problems in your mouth that include:

  • Sores
  • Lack of saliva
  • Thickened saliva
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Jaw stiffness

It's important to tell your cancer team about any of these problems so they can help reduce the discomfort you feel. 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 cause hearing difficulties. One possible cause is hardening of the wax in your ears caused by radiation. Let your doctor know if you have difficulty hearing.

Nausea

Radiation to the head, neck, and any part of the digestive tract can cause nausea and vomiting. Let your doctor know if that occurs because there are medicines you can use to help control nausea. Also, the doctor or the nurse may help you learn relaxation techniques and biofeedback to help control and reduce feelings of nausea.

Diarrhea

Radiation therapy to the stomach or abdomen can cause diarrhea, which typically starts a few weeks after starting the therapy. The doctor will likely prescribe medications to help control the diarrhea as well as suggest changes in your diet such as eating frequent small meals, avoiding high-fiber foods, and being sure to get enough potassium.

Fertility and Sexual Issues

Radiation therapy in the region of the pelvis can affect your fertility and your sex drive. It's also important not to try to become pregnant during radiation therapy because radiation can hurt the fetus. Radiation therapy of the pelvic region can cause women to stop having menstrual periods and to experience other symptoms of menopause. It's important to talk with your doctor about what kind of effect radiation might have on your ability to have children in the future.

In men, radiation in an area that includes the testes can affect the sperm count as well as the functionality of the sperm. This doesn't necessarily mean you can't father a child. But if you want to have children later, you should talk with your doctor about considering the use of a sperm bank before treatment begins.

Treatment to the pelvis can cause sexual intercourse to be painful for some women and can also cause scarring that affects the ability of the vagina to stretch. In men, radiation can affect the nerves and blood vessels that make an erection possible. You should discuss your concerns with your doctor before treatment begins to learn about your options and possible outcomes.

It's natural to have less interest in sex when undergoing treatment for cancer. But typically your sex drive will reawaken after treatment stops. Talk with your spouse and share your concerns about the need for being close.

WebMD Medical Reference

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