Self-Care After Radiation Therapy

Home care

Radiation therapy is a common cancer treatment. Side effects of radiation depend on the part of the body that's treated. Talk with your healthcare team about what you might expect based to your treatment plan.

It's also important to know that side effects tend to get worse as treatment goes on, and may last for several weeks after treatment. But they will start getting better over time after treatment ends. Most side effects can be treated, so tell your healthcare team about any changes you notice.

Follow the instructions you get from your healthcare team, as well as these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

General care

  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with foods high in protein and calories.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids, unless directed otherwise.

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any vitamins, herbs, or supplements.

  • Be prepared for hair loss in the area being treated. In some cases, the hair may not grow back.

  • If your mouth or throat becomes dry or sore, sip cool water. Ice chips may also help.

  • It's very likely that you'll feel more tired while getting radiation. Rest as needed.

Skin care

  • It's normal for the skin over your treatment area to look and feel sunburned. It may be dry and sensitive. It may itch, swell, blister, or peel.

  • Keep your skin dry and clean, but don't scrub or use soap on the treated area. Wash with warm water.

  • Ask your therapy team what type of lotion or cream to use.

  • Ask your healthcare provider if it's okay to shave the treated area.

  • Avoid sun exposure of the treated area. Ask your therapy team about using a sunscreen. Your skin in the treatment area will be extra sensitive to the sun and must be protected.

  • Don't remove ink marks unless your radiation therapist says it's OK. Don't scrub or use soap on the marks when you wash.

  • Protect your skin from heat or cold.

  • Don’t use hot tubs, saunas, heating pads, and ice packs.

  • Wear soft, loose clothing to avoid rubbing your skin.

  • Don't use tape or sticky bandages on the treated skin.

Care for nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

  • Drink clear liquids. Drink small amounts at a time, but drink more often than usual.

  • Take the medicines you were given. If you have a problem with them, talk with your healthcare provider.

  • Smaller meals with snacks in between may help. You can always eat more after waiting a little, but if you eat more than your stomach can handle at one time, it may cause problems.

  • Eat low-fiber, soft, bland foods.

  • Try to not eat foods that are spicy, fried, fatty, or cause gas. Also don't eat foods with a lot of added sugar.

Care for fatigue

  • You may slowly feel more and more tired as treatment goes on.

  • Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep at night.

  • Plan rest breaks and short naps throughout your day.

  • Try to exercise each day. Even a short walk can help you fell less tired. Exercise can also help you sleep better at night.

  • Let others help you. Save your energy to do what's most important. Don’t overdo it.

Taking medicines

  • If you were prescribed medicines, take them as directed. Be sure you know what each medicine is for, the correct dose, and how to take it.

  • Before taking over-the-counter medicines, discuss them with your healthcare provider. Some may not be suitable.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal remedies, vitamins, or supplements.

  • Let your provider know if your medicines are not working. For instance, you may have to try a few anti-nausea medicines until you find 1 that works best for you.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of these:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Extreme confusion or trouble waking

  • Seizures

  • Fainting

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Sore throat

  • White patches in the mouth or throat

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Nausea or vomiting not relieved by your medicines

  • New or worse bleeding and bruising

  • Pain not improved by your medicines

  • Blood in your stool, or black stool, if you didn’t have this before

  • Inability to drink or eat because of mouth sores or nausea

  • Cough or hoarseness that doesn't go away

  • Painful swelling or redness in your legs

Be sure you know how to get reach your medical team at all times. Ask if there is a different number to use after hours or on weekends.

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