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Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Cancers of the Female Reproductive System

Side effects of radiation therapy for cervical cancer or endometrial cancer are common. Your radiation oncologist will explain the possible side effects, including uncommon side effects that may involve the abdomen, the pelvis, and the genital area. Home treatment measures may help you manage the side effects. For more information, see the Home Treatment section of this topic.

Fatigue is a common side effect, especially in the later weeks of treatment and for several weeks afterward. Rest is important, but health professionals usually advise you to try to stay reasonably active, matching your activities to your energy level.

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Radiation therapy to the lower abdomen may cause difficulty with urination or problems with bowel habits, such as constipation or severe diarrhea. Inflammation of the bladder (radiation cystitis) is a common side effect, especially if internal radiation treatment is used in the cervix.

Your ability to have or enjoy sexual intercourse may also be affected, because radiation may cause changes to the cells lining the vagina (mucosa), making intercourse difficult or painful.

The skin in the treated area may become red, dry, tender, and itchy. Toward the end of treatment, the skin may become moist and "weepy." These effects are temporary, and the area will gradually heal when treatment is completed. Expose the area to air as much as possible to help the skin heal. Some types of clothing may rub the skin and cause irritation, so you may want to wear loose-fitting cotton clothes.

Good skin care is important during radiation therapy, and you should check with your health professional before using any deodorants, lotions, or creams on the treated area. The effects of radiation therapy on the skin are temporary, and the area gradually heals once treatment is over. You may notice a slight change in the color of the skin.

Most of these side effects go away when treatment is over, but some may not.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Michael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
Last Revised October 31, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 31, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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