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Cancer Health Center

What to Expect From Radiation Therapy

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Will Radiation Therapy Cause My Hair to Fall Out?

Only patients who get radiation to the scalp or the brain may have hair loss. Others won't. If you do have hair loss, it will usually occur suddenly and come out in clumps. In most cases, the hair will grow back after therapy stops, but it may be thinner or have a different texture.

One way to minimize hair loss is to cut your hair short before treatment begins to make less weight on the hair shaft. If the hair loss occurs 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 purchase 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 are usually specific to the site that receives the radiation.

Eating Problems

Radiation therapy to the head, neck, or parts of the digestive system can result in loss of interest in eating. But it's important to continue to eat a healthy diet while undergoing treatment in order to maintain your health and keep up your strength.

  • Eating five or six small meals spread out through the day often works better than trying to eat three larger meals.
  • Trying new recipes can help you maintain your interest in eating.
  • Keeping healthy snacks that you enjoy on hand will help you eat when you're hungry rather than waiting for mealtimes and perhaps losing your appetite.

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:

  • Mouth sores (little cuts or ulcers)
  • 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.

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