Summary: Radiation therapy is an important treatment option for cervical cancer. However, like any other treatment option, it also has its drawbacks. Radiation therapy often comes with various side effects and complications that patients should be aware of before opting for this treatment. This article explains some common side effects of radiation for cervical cancer.
1. Skin reactions
The skin in the treatment area may become red, dry, and itchy, similar to sunburn. Patients may also experience peeling, blistering, or changes in skin color depending on the radiation dose and frequency. These symptoms may start appearing after a few weeks into the treatment and may persist for several weeks after the treatment ends.
Patients can relieve skin reactions by keeping the area clean and moisturized, avoiding tight-fitting clothes, using gentle soap and laundry detergents, and protecting the skin from sun exposure. In severe cases, doctors may prescribe topical creams or ointments to help with the discomfort.
In rare cases, patients may develop skin ulcers or infections requiring medical attention. Consulting a healthcare provider for advice is crucial if skin reactions become unbearable or do not improve with time.
Fatigue is a common side effect of cervical cancer radiation therapy. It is mostly due to the body’s reaction to the increased energy demands caused by the treatment. Patients may feel tired, weak, or sleepy even after adequate rest and sleep.
Taking plenty of rest, engaging in regular but light physical activities, and eating a well-balanced diet with enough fluids can help manage fatigue. It is also vital to communicate with the healthcare provider regarding the intensity of fatigue and whether it is affecting daily activities such as work or school.
In severe situations, doctors may recommend complementary treatments such as acupuncture or medication to reduce the symptoms.
3. Nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of radiation therapy for cervical cancer that may affect patients during or after the treatment sessions. These symptoms occur due to irritation of the stomach lining and changes in the digestive system caused by the radiation.
Patients can manage nausea and vomiting by consuming light, bland meals, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding spicy, fatty, or fried foods. Taking anti-nausea medications as prescribed by the healthcare provider can also help relieve the symptoms.
In severe cases, doctors may prescribe stronger medications or hospitalization if dehydration or malnourishment occurs due to persistent vomiting.
4. Sexual dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction is a long-term side effect of radiation for cervical cancer that may significantly affect a patient’s quality of life. Radiation therapy can cause damage to the vaginal tissues and nerves, leading to pain, dryness, and discomfort during intercourse. It can also cause changes in sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm.
Patients can discuss their sexual concerns with healthcare providers and seek appropriate treatment options. These options may include vaginal moisturizers or lubricants, hormone therapy, pelvic floor exercises, or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Patients are advised to undergo regular pelvic exams and follow-ups to detect any symptoms early and begin treatment promptly.
In severe cases, surgeons may perform reconstructive surgery to restore normal vaginal function and alleviate painful symptoms.
5. Bowel and bladder problems
Radiation for cervical cancer may cause inflammation and scarring of the bladder and bowel tissues, leading to problems such as diarrhea, constipation, painful urination, and urinary or fecal incontinence.
To manage these symptoms, patients may need to follow a strict diet plan, exercise regularly, and take prescribed medications such as laxatives or antidiarrheals. They may also benefit from pelvic floor exercises, bladder or bowel retraining programs, or surgical interventions if conservative methods fail.
In severe cases, a healthcare provider may recommend an ostomy surgery for either the bladder or bowel to avoid long-term complications.
Radiation therapy for cervical cancer is an effective treatment option. However, it also comes with several side effects that can affect patients’ physical and emotional well-being. Patients should be aware of these potential symptoms before undergoing radiation treatments and discuss them with healthcare providers. With proper management and advanced treatment options, these side effects can be minimized, and the patient’s quality of life can be improved.