What About Side Effects?

Like many patients, you probably have concerns and questions about the side effects of radiation therapy.

  • What are common side effects?
  • How can I manage them?
  • How will I feel?
  • Does everyone have side effects?
  • Will I be able to work?

Side Effects Are Different for Each Person

Why do some people have few or no side effects, and others have a lot?

Everyone responds differently to radiation therapy.

This is why it is important to remember that hearing about one person’s side effects does not mean that you are going to have the same experience.

What factors determine if I will get side effects?

Side effects can depend on the type of radiation you receive, the dose, and your overall physical health and mental state.

Having no side effects doesn’t mean that your treatment isn’t working.

When will I experience side effects?

Side effects can happen at different times during your therapy.

Many side effects go away after treatment. Some may last longer and continue after your treatment ends.

The good news is that there are things you can do to manage side effects. You’ll be working closely with your care team to find the best solutions for you.

Now let’s identify some of the physical side effects you may experience. As you go through this section, you can choose to learn more about these side effects and ways to manage them.

Remember to also talk with your care team. They will tell you about the most common side effects for your treatment.

Physical Side Effects

Physical side effects are changes in your body that may or may not occur because of your radiation treatment.

Common side effects include:

  • Feeling tired or sleepy
  • Changes to your skin, specifically near the site of radiation (things like red, itchy, dry, or peeling skin)

During your treatment, your care team will ask you about any side effects you may have. Be sure to also bring up any concerns you may have.

Learn more about how you can manage these side effects below:

Feeling tired or sleepy

You may start to feel more tired as your treatment progresses and at the end of treatment. Sometimes feeling tired can last a few weeks after your last treatment.

What you can do:

  • Rest. Try to get 8 hours of sleep every night. This will help your body heal.
  • Light exercise (walking) and a healthy diet can also help.
  • You may need time to recover before resuming your usual activities.

How Your Care Team Can Help:

Tell your care coordinator or a team member so they can help you find ways to manage being tired or sleepy.

Changes to your skin

The skin near your radiation site/treatment area might get red, itchy, dry, or peel. It also might look moist or weepy. This can happen during and after treatment.

What you can do:

  • Wear soft clothes
  • Take gentle showers or baths
  • Don’t rub, scrub, or scratch the skin at your treatment area
  • Don’t put hot or cold materials on the skin (like ice or warm compresses)

How Your Care Team Can Help:

  • Have your care team recommend skin care products to reduce discomfort.
  • If you have severe reactions, your team can refer you to Stanford Health Care’s Supportive Dermatology program where you can meet with a skin doctor.

Additional Stanford Resources


If you have any questions during your radiation therapy, including questions about side effects, reach out to your nurse coordinator or another care team member.

A note about internet searches

  • While there are many good health sites on the internet, be very cautious when looking up side effect information and remedies online.

Always let your care team know what you are doing to manage side effects.

Stanford Supportive Care Program

Explore the Cancer Supportive Care Program at Stanford Cancer Center.

They provide patients with free support groups, classes, workshops, personal one-on-one consultations and services which are open to all cancer patients in the community.