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Radiation Side Effects: Understanding the Risks

By June 24, 2024July 4th, 2024No Comments

Radiation therapy side effects vary in severity, but there’s no denying their impact on patients and practitioners alike. Besides causing discomfort in different parts of the body, radiation often causes changes in appetite that compound and contribute to other issues down the line.

If your facility provides radiation therapy to patients, it’s important to understand the side effects to empathize with and guide patients and practitioners to take the correct precautionary measures. It’s also essential to furnish healthcare professionals with protective gear such as lead aprons and similar equipment.

In this article, we’ll go over the side effects of radiation and radiation therapy. We’ll also provide you with expert advice on how to reduce radiation exposure as much as possible.


The Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Before delving into the side effects of radiation therapy, it’s important to note that every patient is different. Some individuals will experience mild radiation-related complications, while others will react severely to the same treatment.

In addition to this, also remember that some symptoms will manifest immediately, while others will take months or even years to appear. It’s even possible to have side effects in areas that were never exposed, so always take all steps you can to protect your patients from radiation.

Your best option is to analyze each case individually and consider each patient’s lifestyle, rather than expecting a type of reaction because of the type of radiation or treatment zone. With this in mind, here are some common side effects of radiation.


1. Skin Problems

It’s very common for radiation patients to experience skin problems after treatment. In most cases it starts with the skin looking swollen, blistered, red, or otherwise irritated.

After some time, it’s possible for the skin to become flaky and dry, and for some of the layers to peel off.

While still under treatment, patients can take steps to manage the discomfort and prevent open rounds from becoming infected. The issue stops occurring gradually once the treatment is completed.


2. Hair Loss

Hair loss due to radiation is directly related to the area being treated. For instance, if patients get radiation to the chest or head, they may lose the hair on the face.

If they get treatment on the lower body, there’s a chance their hair won’t fall out in that area.

While it usually grows back, it’s difficult to deal with hair loss. So, this is an opportunity to encourage patients to rely on their support network until their hair grows back.

Additionally, some patients report that the hair that grows back after radiation may look and feel different than prior to the treatment.


3. Nausea and Changes in Appetite

Patients who receive radiation therapy in the stomach, colon, or small intestine may experience nausea and vomiting. Additionally, they may also experience changes in appetite and find it difficult to enjoy food on a regular basis. Some tips for patients include:

  • Eat slowly
  • Consume food during periods when you feel better
  • Try to eat with somebody as company can make a meal more enjoyable


4. Fatigue and Tiredness

One of the most common immediate side effects of 5-day radiation is tiredness and fatigue.

Some patients also experience this symptom for weeks or months after, so including physical activities as part of your routine and getting plenty of rest can help reduce this side effect. That said, it’s not advisable to wait until the treatment to start a heavy workout regime.


5. Different Fertility Symptoms for Men and Women

It’s advisable for every patient to speak with their fertility specialist before starting any course of radiation treatment. The reason for this is that radiation can cause some fertility challenges depending on the area being treated.

For women, radiation exposure can halt their menstrual cycle. This may return after treatment, but there are cases where the effects are permanent.

As for men, radiation can greatly reduce their sperm count and cause morphology as well as motility issues as well. Depending on the patient, it may be a good idea to deposit sperm in a bank.


6. Elevated Risks of Other Cancers

In addition to the radiation treatment side effects listed above, it’s also possible for patients to experience an elevated risk of other cancers.

And, while the risks are higher in the areas being treated, exposure to radiation can result in the gradual development of cancerous cells. Some radiation-related tumors develop 10 years after treatment, so make sure that your patients understand long-term risks as well as immediate side effects.


How to Limit Radiation Exposure

It’s normal for patients to experience side effects from radiation, but you can also help reduce the magnitude of their symptoms by providing protective equipment.

Just like your practitioners, patients can benefit from wearing leaded aprons, thyroid shields, safety goggles, and other protective equipment. These help reduce the amount of radiation that reaches patients, which results in milder symptoms that don’t last as long.

When looking for the best protective equipment, remember to get gear that’s easy to disinfect to prevent healthcare-associated infections from spreading between patients.


Easing and Minimizing Side Effects of Radiation

The side effects of radiation treatment can vary from mild to severe depending on each case. While there is no surefire way to eliminate them completely, there are some actions that can help minimize and ease symptoms experienced by patients. For instance:


Avoiding Tight Clothing

Some patients may get the urge to wear tight clothing but this will only cause more discomfort. Instead, you should suggest light and loose clothing that gently rests on the skin.


Staying Active

Committing to physical activity and exercising where possible can reduce stress, combat fatigue, and even help patients cope with changes in mood.


Getting Support from Family and Friends

Lastly, many patients retract from their family members and friends, when in reality they should be getting support and help from their network of loved ones.


To Wrap Up

Radiation therapy can help treat certain types of cancers, but it’s essential for patients to be properly protected to avoid short and long-term side effects. Moreover, your team must be protected at all times as they could also be impacted by the effects of scatter radiation.

Even with the right protection, keep in mind that your patients may still experience skin issues, fatigue, hair loss, and other side effects if they’re receiving radiation treatment.

Just make sure to have lead aprons, thyroid shields, and other protective gear to limit exposure and prevent more serious health issues later on.

Barrier Technologies is a leading provider of high-quality protective equipment for medical facilities, so contact us today to learn more about protecting your patients and practitioners.