Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Should I ask about side effects at my adiation oncology consultation?"
I need radiation therapy to fight my cancer but I am afraid of the side effects. How can I find out more?
You should absolutely ask about side effects at your radiation oncology consultation. Radiotherapy can be a potent therapy to combat cancer, and sometimes offers a much better chance of cure or a marked improvement in the overall course of the disease. Is is true, however, that radiotherapy comes with side effects. Most pronounced among these is direct damage to the surrounding healthy normal tissues. The effects of this depend on the areas involved; radiation to the lungs can produce an inflammation of the lungs called radiation pneumonitis, to the heart can produce inflammation and pain of the sack containing the heart called pericarditis, etc. Radiation also produces an increased risk of secondary tumors like sarcomas in the future. Finally, radiation to the brain from so called whole-brain radiotherapy, most often used for brain metastases, can produce brain swelling and cognitive impairment. These side effects are important to know about, however, they are only a part of the consideration when deciding whether or not to undergo radiotherapy. Radiotherapy can offer great benefits to many types of cancer, and the side effects must be weighed against the risks of NOT undergoing radiotherapy (i.e. allowing the cancer to spread further). This decision is best made through a careful conversation between you, your oncologist, and your radiation oncologist.