Long Term Side Effects
Radiotherapy can cause your skin to dry in the area which has been treated, making it easier to damage. Tiny blood vessels may appear on the surface of your skin in the treatment area. Your skin will be more sun sensitive and prone to burning following radiotherapy so it is important that you cover the treatment area when out in the sun and wear the highest factor sun cream.
On rare occasions the tissues treated during radiotherapy do not heal following radiotherapy. This can occur with oral cavity tumours treated with radiotherapy. This might indicate surgical intervention where possible. However with the advent of modern radiotherapy delivery techniques, this side effect is very rare.
The radiotherapy treatment is localized, which means that we only treat the affected area, for example for a prostate treatment we treat the pelvic area. Therefore, you will only loose hair in that region. As long as the area being treated is not on the hair line the likelihood is that it will grow back over time.
Occasionally radiotherapy to the pelvis induces diarrhoea which can persist after your radiotherapy course has been completed. This side effect occurs when a large portion of the bowel is being treated with radiotherapy. Diarrhoea can be treated with medication but on rare occasions surgical intervention is required and a portion of your bowel may be removed. You may have to be fitted with a colostomy bag. There is a possibility that your bowel movements may become urgent.
Urinary Tract Problems
Following radiotherapy you may experience increased frequency, urgency and/or leakage.
Treatment to the lower pelvic area will cause infertility as the ovaries and testes are sensitive to small doses of radiotherapy. If you are not willing to compromise your fertility you must discuss the likelihood fully with your consultant. Cryogenic freezing of ovum/ sperm is an option utilized by many patients who have not yet had their families.
Following radiotherapy, the cervix and/or vaginal walls may narrow. This can make medical examinations and intercourse uncomfortable. You will be advised on how to minimize the risk of these side effects with the use of lubricants and dilators.
Head & Neck and Brain
The lens of the eye is very sensitive to radiotherapy and therefore a very low dose of radiotherapy can instigate the forming of a cataract. For this reason eye shielding is employed for the majority of head and neck and brain radiotherapy treatments. Occasionally treating the eye is unavoidable in order to gain benefit from radiotherapy treatment. This risk will be discussed with you at your consenting process. It takes approximately 2 years for a cataract to form and it can be removed as naturally occurring cataracts are.
If you have had radiotherapy to the neck you may continue to have difficulty swallowing following radiotherapy. Surgical intervention may be required but only in extreme cases. This will be discussed with you before your treatment.
Following radiotherapy to the mouth you may be left with a dry mouth permanently, particularly if you are receiving treatment to your salivary glands.. There are several ways to relieve dry mouth for example the use of artificial saliva. This will be discussed with you before your treatment.
Radiotherapy to the upper thorax can cause your voice to change by becoming permanently hoarse or faint like a whisper. It can induce a dry cough and/or breathlessness due to inflammation.
Occasionally some the tissues do not heal fully after radiotherapy and the treated tissue may be left less supple. This can occur after chest radiotherapy which may cause lung fibrosis. However with the advent of modern radiotherapy delivery techniques, this side effect is very rare.