New Health Guide

Side Effects of Brain Tumor Radiation & Tips to Help

Mar 26, 2018

Radiation therapy is an important part of cancer treatment, but it can cause several side effects as well. These side effects are mainly because radiation cannot differentiate between cancer cells and normal cells. You experience a variety of problems when radiation destroys normal cells. The severity of your side effects usually depends on the location of cancer. In most cases, you experience side effects after a few weeks, but the brain tumor radiation side effects can be rather immediate and severe. Let's find out more about it.


Side Effects of Brain Tumor Radiation

Radiation therapy can cause both short term and long term side effects. While some side effects are common, radiation therapy may affect different patients in a different way. Therefore, it makes sense to talk to your radiation oncologist and ask them what to expect during and after the radiation therapy.

Short-Term Brain Tumor Radiation Side Effects

  • Fatigue: One of the most common side effects of radiation therapy is fatigue. You are likely to experience it within a few weeks of treatment. It may take a few months to recover completely from this side effect.
  • Hair Loss: You may lose your hair soon after you start your radiation therapy. In most cases, you will notice your hair grow back again in a month or so after the treatment. Keep in mind that the hair loss is permanent in some cases.
  • Muffled Hearing: You may develop hearing difficulties during the treatment, but the issue may resolve within 4 weeks after completing your therapy.
  • Skin Irritation: It is common for your skin in the targeted area to become red, dry, irritated, or sensitive. It sometimes looks like you have a sunburn. Your healthcare provider will suggest ways to treat your skin during the treatment to prevent further complications.
  • Memory Problems: Many people experience short-term memory loss during the treatment. The side effect is more common in patients who receive whole-brain radiation therapy.
  • Headaches: You may develop a headache or experience pressure in your head due to brain tissue swelling. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to help reduce the swelling and prevent headaches.

Long-Term Brain Tumor Radiation Side Effects

  • You may develop another cancer in the area close to the radiation field. These secondary cancers are the result of exposing your healthy tissue to radiation. Modern radiation techniques help lower the risk, but sometimes, it is not possible to avoid these secondary cancers.
  • You may develop a condition called radiation necrosis, which refers to the development of a mass of dead tissue at the site of the tumor. You usually develop it years after your radiation therapy. It requires surgery to treat the necrotic tissue.
  • You may develop problems like seizures and headaches in case radiation therapy causes serious damage to healthy tissue in your brain.
  • You may experience a change in your hormonal levels because the therapy can damage the pituitary gland in the brain. It can lead to infertility in women and cause sexual dysfunction in men. Taking synthetic hormones may help correct the issue.
  • You may notice a loss of brain function in case you receive whole-brain radiation. Your symptoms depend on the area being treated.

How Long Do Side Effects Last?

In most cases, you develop brain tumor radiation side effects during the third week of treatment. The symptoms may appear early or take a while to appear, depending mainly on the schedule and your prescribed dose. Your side effects usually go away in a few months after your treatment. It usually depends on how long your healthy cells take to recover from radiation. Some people may experience serious side effects – your doctor may decide to discontinue the treatment for a short while to help your cells recover. Be sure to inform your healthcare provider about your side effects so they could find a better treatment plant.

Tips for Coping with Some Side Effects

It is natural to experience brain tumor radiation side effects, but you can take steps to help lessen the discomfort. For instance, you may lose your hair during the treatment, but keeping your head covered to protect your scalp may help promote growth. Be sure to protect your tender scalp from harmful UV rays. You can wear a wig or learn to find a right type of hat until your hair grows back again.

In addition to hair loss, you may develop skin related problems. Here are some steps to take to deal with skin problems:

  • Avoid wearing tight or stiff clothes to avoid irritating the treatment area. Wear loose clothing made of smooth fabrics.
  • Never scrub, rub, or scratch the treated skin. You should not use any adhesive tape on your treated skin. You can use paper tape if you really have to cover the affected skin.
  • Never apply a heating pad or ice pack to the affected area. You should always talk to your healthcare provider first and then apply anything to your exposed skin. Keep in mind that hot water can also irritate your skin.
  • Never expose your treated skin to the sun and keep it covered with a soft cloth. You may consider applying sunscreen to the area for added protection but be sure to ask your healthcare provider before using any sunscreen. They will guide you about selecting the right sunscreen considering its SPF rating.
  • Be sure to use mild soap whenever cleaning the affected area. Never opt for hot water though. You should not rub the affected area hard because it can irritate the skin and remove the ink marks required for your therapy.
  • Do not shave the affected area unless you have already confirmed with your cancer care team. Using an electric shaver is usually a better choice here.
  • Never apply any perfume, cream, body oil, deodorant, lotion, or hair-removal products on your affected skin unless your cancer team has allowed it. Remember, these products can leave a thin coating on your skin and cause irritation.