Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Cancer health centre

General side effects of radiotherapy

A person undergoing radiotherapy to kill cancer cells will usually experience some side effects. The types of side effects and how severe they are vary between different people, so it is difficult to know how radiotherapy will affect an individual person.

The higher the dose of radiation, the more chances there will be that a patient experiences side effects, so the radiotherapy team will use their expertise in providing treatment designed to kill the cancer in a patient but with the fewest possible side effects.

The side effects caused by radiotherapy will depend on:

  • The type of radiotherapy used – such as external radiotherapy from outside the body or internal radiotherapy given within the body – and it's dosage, or how much is used
  • The part of the body that's being targeted – for example, some of the side effects from treating lung cancer will be different to those from treating bowel cancer
  • The person's general health and ability to heal.

While some patients might experience only mild side effects, others with similar treatment will have more severe side effects. Before beginning radiotherapy the members of the radiotherapy team should discuss with the patient the possible side effects and help in preparing for and managing them.

The side effects are often classed as early or late. Early side effects generally occur during treatment and end within a few weeks afterwards. Late side effects either begin during or shortly after treatment and continue for at least 6 months afterwards – this type is also called long-term and can be permanent – or they can appear months or years after treatment has ended. The more common general side effects are discussed below.

WebMD Medical Reference

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman_holding_head_in_pain
How to help headache pain
man in mirror
How smoking affects your looks & life
boost your metabolism
Foods to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
period_questions_answered
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman holding mouth
Common mouth problems
couple makigh salad
Nutrition for over 50s
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning and organising tips
adult man contemplating
When illness makes it hard to eat
Allergies
Allergy myths and facts
egg in cup
Surprising things that can harm your liver