Possible complications of radiation therapy
Radiation side effects
When patients undergo radiation therapy they may experience possible complications. These side effects will depend on which part of the body is exposed to radiation, the patient’s overall health, how much radiation is used (high or low dose), and the patient’s treatment schedule. While some side effects are possible with any medical procedure, not every patient will experience them, or to the same degree. For those who do, most of their side effects will be temporary and can be managed. At the Austin Center for Radiation Oncology, possible side effects are discussed with every patient prior to treatment.
What to expect each week during treatment
Below is a week-by-week outline of what prostate cancer patients might expect after starting radiation treatments. These are typical expectations that may vary depending on the individual.
- Week 1 – No symptoms.
- Week 2 – Fatigue.
- Week 3 – Increased urination and bowel movements.
- Week 4 – Burning during urination.
- Week 5 – Hemorrhoid itching.
- Week 6 – Hemorrhoid irritation.
- Week 7-9 – Most side effects remain stable or improve.
Possible complications over the short-term
Short-term side effects from external beam radiation to the pelvic area may begin during week two of treatment. These side effects may include:
- Irritation to the urethra and bladder.
- Weak urinary stream.
- An increased need to urinate throughout the night (nocturia).
- Urinary frequency during the day.
- An urgent need to urinate (urinary urgency).
- Increased bowel movements.
- Loose stools.
- Rectal inflammation.
- Rectal bleeding.
- Irritated hemorrhoids.
In order to minimize bladder irritation, a bladder friendly diet will be discussed with patients who are undergoing treatment. They will also be advised on how best to manage their side effects. Some may be controlled with prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Possible complications over the long-term
Radiation therapy can cause long-term medical complications. These conditions may include:
- Urinary problems: Some patients may feel the need to urinate more often or have a burning sensation while urinating. Some patients may also develop urinary incontinence (urinary leakage).
- Bowel problems: Radiation to the pelvic region can irritate the rectum. This exposure may lead to increased bowel movements, diarrhea, bloody stool, or rectal leakage.
- Erection problems: Problems with achieving or maintaining an erection can be associated with radiation to the pelvic region. There may also be discomfort during orgasm, and a change in the amount of ejaculate after treatment.
The radiation oncologist will thoroughly discuss side effects with patients prior to radiation therapy. If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, contact the Austin Center for Radiation Oncology to schedule a consultation with Dr. Richard Garza.