Fatigue and Other Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
It is normal to feel tired after receiving radiation therapy. The side effects of radiation therapy vary from person to person. It all depends on how the treatment is given, how often and some other factors.
When radiation therapy is prescribed to treat cancer, the doctor provides a list of possible side effects of the treatment. Things like nausea, diarrhea and hair loss usually catch the attention of a person first because they seem to be the worst. While these are side effects that may be difficult to tolerate, it is actually fatigue that affects more people.
Lack of energy and excessive tiredness seem to affect all cancer patients, but those who receive radiation therapy experience more often and often suffer from chronic fatigue. Learning how to handle and deal with fatigue is essential for quality of life during radiotherapy treatment.
The three most commonly experienced side effects of radiation therapy are:
- Skin Problems
- Loss of appetite
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Fatigue is one of the most severe side effects of radiation therapy. Usually, one week after the first treatment of radiation therapy, you may begin to feel the following symptoms of fatigue:
- Feeling tired or lethargic throughout the day
- Exhaustion (this feeling lasts longer than being tired, is more intense and is not relieved by rest).
- Low energy
- Loss of motivation
- Minimal concentration
Walking from the parking lot to the hospital can take longer as well as the physical tasks are difficult to perform. Fatigue can be extremely frustrating because while you are not sleepy, but you do not have enough energy to do much. Fatigue affects differently; some may experience mild fatigue, while others may suffer from severe chronic fatigue that significantly affects their quality of life. Fatigue can increase over time as you receive more radiotherapy treatments.
Why does radiation therapy cause fatigue?
Fatigue occurs during radiation therapy because the body is working hard to repair the damage inflicted on healthy cells by treatment. The degree of fatigue usually varies depending on the amount of tissue irradiated, as well as the location. But radiation therapy may not be the only culprit for fatigue: it can be a result of the cancer itself, or the mental stress associated with being a cancer patient.
Certain medications, such as those prescribed to prevent and treat nausea, may also be responsible for fatigue. It is impossible to determine the exact cause because there are many factors in the treatment of cancer that may be responsible.
6 Tips to Help Deal With Fatigue
There are many steps you can take to help deal with cancer fatigue:
- Ask for help and accept it when offered.
Do not let pride get in the way of asking for help. Also, accept the help when you are offered. Tasks such as lawn mowing, grocery shopping, and cleaning can be impossible when you are fatigued. Pressuring you to carry out everyday tasks can leave you even more exhausted. Friends and family are often happy to help, let them do so.
- Sleep enough.
Slack sleeping is essential for everyone, not just for cancer patients. If you have trouble sleeping at night, try to limit the duration of the nap during the day. Sleeping too much can cause more fatigue and restless nighttime sleep.
- Rest when you need it.
If you start to feel tired, stop and take a few moments to rest and recharge the batteries. Rest can mean taking a little nap or just being able to sit in a relaxing place and take time for yourself.
- Make sure you are well hydrated.
Dehydration is a common cause of fatigue. Make sure you drink plenty of water and eat enough fruits and vegetables, have a high water content. If you experience nausea, try to drink water at room temperature; May be easier to tolerate. Avoid drinks with caffeine, act as diuretics, the energy kick they provide is short-lived, and actually make you later feel more tired.
- Think twice before drinking energy drinks.
You may have the craving or temptation to drink an energy drink that is supposed to give you more energy, but avoid that temptation. They are loaded with sugar and caffeine, which can give a boost of energy, but not enough to last the day. Like other caffeinated beverages, they can increase fatigue after lowering the effects of caffeine / sugar.
- Exercise when you feel you can.
Studies show that exercise can increase energy in people with cancer. Exercise can be a short walk, swimming, or yoga; you do not have to struggle lifting weights in the gym to reap the benefits of exercise.
Talk to your doctor about fatigue
Many people underestimate fatigue and do not mention it to the doctor. There may be underlying medical reasons for fatigue, such as anemia, which may need to be treated.
Unfortunately, there are no prescriptions or over-the-counter medications to treat fatigue, but the doctor may be able to determine what is contributing to fatigue and offer specific solutions to your situation. Also, talk to the doctor to weigh the possibility of using some herbs against fatigue.
Skin that has been exposed to treatment may appear red, sunburnt, tanned or irritated. The skin is sensitive and should be treated as such. You can apply creams / gels special oncologist or oncology nurse (there is one called Radiagel, for example).
Patients should avoid fragrant perfumes or body lotions, tight clothing and expose the area to the sun (during treatment and for at least a year thereafter). Problems with the skin usually go away after the treatment is finished.
Loss of appetite
Loss of appetite can lead to fatigue and nutritional deficits. It is important to maintain strength during any cancer treatment and food is one of the best resources to achieve it.
You can choose to eat smaller portions throughout the day instead of the usual three main meals. Eating foods rich in vitamins such as fruits and vegetables is essential. The appetite will increase as the treatment ends.
For patients receiving treatment for head or neck cancer (and sometimes lung cancer ), lack of saliva can be a side effect. There are specific treatments for this problem, talk to the doctor.
Other Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
The side effects of radiation therapy will depend on the type of cancer that is being treated. Possible side effects of radiation therapy include:
· Hair Loss
Hair loss occurs only in the area being treated. If you receive radiation therapy in the pelvis, you will not lose hair on your head. But, if you are receiving treatment for head and neck cancer, there is a high probability of having hair loss on the head. The good news is that in most cases, hair regrows after treatment.
· Reduced blood count
Radiation can cause a decrease in white blood cells and platelets. This can lead to less immunity to viruses and bacteria because the white blood cells are the ones that fight these threats. Tests should be performed on a regular basis to check the blood count and treatment may be altered depending on the results.
While side effects vary with treatment, depending on the radiated area, different side effects will occur. For example, treatment of the pelvis can cause fertility problems, and treatment of the head and neck can lead to dental problems such as tooth decay. It is important to ask the doctor what side effects are anticipated and how they can be prevented or managed.
Have you suffered the side effects of radiation therapy?