Advice on Managing the Side Effects of Radiation

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 12, 2021

Radiation treatments for cancer come with a host of unpleasant symptoms. You may have trouble sleeping or eating, feel fatigued, and experience skin irritation. However, there are various tips you can follow to help with your symptoms.

Be Gentle on Yourself

A natural symptom of the radiation and all of the stress of having cancer is feeling fatigued. Not only is your body constantly trying to heal itself during your radiation, but you will also need to do a lot for your illness. Constantly seeing doctors, trying to take care of yourself, and having to manage daily life on top of it all can take a lot out of you. 

However, you must readjust your life and expectations to fit the fact that you are now undergoing radiation. Do not push yourself if you are feeling too tired. You might even need to take time off of work, school, or your household chores. 

Manage Your Sleep

It might be hard to sleep during the beginning of your treatment, while toward the end of it, you might feel exhausted. Throughout your treatment, you must try to get enough sleep and practice good sleep hygiene.

Having a normalized nighttime ritual, avoiding naps, and journaling before bed can all help you sleep better. However, if you have severe insomnia that won’t go away, you should speak to your doctor.

Take Care of Your Skin

The skin that is exposed to the radiation therapy you are getting will need to have special consideration. It will be sensitive, red, and similar to a sunburn. Your healthcare team will give you more specialized instructions for your specific case. Still, some general advice for taking care of your skin is:

  • Do not wash off any markings.
  • Clean the area gently with mild soap. 
  • Only use gentle products that do not contain any alcohol, aluminum, or fragrance. 
  • Do not put anything too hot or cold on your skin. 
  • Wear protective clothing that shields you from the sun or other harsh weather. 

Eat a Healthy Diet

Malnutrition is widespread among cancer patients. This is because they often experience nausea and also need to manage their diet in new ways. Even though there might be things you will need to avoid and not eat, you should try as best as possible to continue eating food that nourishes you. 

Do not try to lose weight during this time. Instead, speak with your doctor about how to get the proper nutrition during this time.

Show Sources

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “Radiation therapy side effects: 5 tips to cope.”

YaleMedicine: “Managing Side Effects from Radiation Therapy.”

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