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Cancer Health Center

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What to Expect From Radiation Therapy

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


Radiation to the head, neck, and any part of the digestive tract can cause nausea and vomiting. Let your doctor know if that happens. She can give you medicine to control it. Also, you might be able to learn relaxation techniques and biofeedback to help control and reduce feelings of nausea.


Radiation therapy to your belly can cause diarrhea, which typically starts a few weeks after therapy begins. The doctor will likely prescribe medications to help control it. She’ll also suggest changes in your diet, such as eating small meals more often, avoiding high-fiber foods, and getting enough potassium.

Fertility and Sexual Issues

Radiation therapy to your pelvis can affect your sex drive and whether you’ll be able to have a child. If you want to start a family or have more children, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how the treatment will affect your fertility before treatment begins.

Women shouldn’t try to get pregnant during radiation therapy because it can hurt the baby. It also can stop periods and cause other symptoms of menopause.

For men, radiation to the testes can affect sperm count and how well they work. This doesn't necessarily mean you can't father a child. But if you want to have kids later on, you should talk with your doctor to see if you should use a sperm bank before treatment begins.

Treatment to the pelvis can make sex painful for some women and can also cause scarring that makes the vagina less able to stretch. In men, radiation can affect the nerves and blood vessels that control erections. Your doctor can help you understand what might happen and how you can handle it.

It's natural to have less interest in sex when you’re having treatment for cancer. But your sex drive will usually come back after treatment stops. Talk openly with your partner about how you can stay close. Make sure you listen to their concerns, too.

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