Radiation therapy is the use of ionized energy, such as X-rays or gamma rays, to treat cancer. As these pulses of energy penetrate cancerous tissue, they actually damage the DNA of the abnormal cells, impeding their division and eventually bringing them to an end. External beam radiation is one of the more common forms of therapy, but you may also receive radiation internally or systematically. Internal radiation involves the insertion of radioactive devices in or near the malignant tumor. With systematic radiation, a radioactive solution is injected or ingested to better move throughout the body. When radiation is released into the brain, the mode of delivery varies from person to person. But regardless of the method, there is the potential for certain side effects.
One of the most common side effects of radiation to the brain is hair loss. This usually occurs soon after you begin treatment, so expect some level of hair loss after about two weeks. The amount of hair lost is really dependent on the person, but it should start to grow back as soon as you've finished your radiotherapy sessions.
Often accompanying this hair loss is the side effect of skin irritation. And much like hair loss, the amount of irritation will vary from person to person. For most people, the area of exposure generally becomes red and sore, but you may also experience some dryness and itching. For others, skin may become thin or even harder than normal.
It isn't uncommon for radiation therapy to cause a certain amount of fatigue or exhaustion. But unlike hair loss and skin irritation, this side effect can last well after you've completed treatment. The reason for the fatigue is still unclear, yet it could be a result of your immune response, anemia or any associated pain.
It's also quite possible to suffer from some digestive issues with radiotherapy. When this grouping of side effects comes forth, you may begin to experience periodic episodes of nausea or vomiting, which could cause some appetite problems. You may even develop dry mouth and have troubles swallowing.
Radiation to the brain can also cause some cognitive disturbances. This is largely due to the ionized energy focused onto the brain, prompting memory loss or even problems with your speech. When the radiation affects your ability to speak, you may begin to slur or garble your words as well as experience problems finding words. You may also begin to experience more frequent or more intense headaches.
Sometimes, radiation to the brain can affect your vision, causing doubled or blurred vision as well as a partial loss of vision. This can often have an effect on your perception, creating sensory difficulties with balance and making it difficult to get around.
With radiation therapy to the brain, you could experience a change in hearing. This may affect one or both ears, prompting a reduced capacity to discern sound or certain pitches.