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What is radiation?

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for a variety of cancers. By focusing high doses of radiation on the areas being treated, the genetic material of the cells is no longer able to grow. Radiation damages both normal and cancer cells, but the normal cells are often able to repair themselves, while the cancer cells cannot.

What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

Possible side effects include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss near the treated area
  • Fatigue
  • Skin darkening in the area exposed to the radiation beam
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Painful urination
  • Erection problems in men
  • Vaginal dryness in women

Side effects generally go away once treatment is completed, but some effects may be long term, such as:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Chronic rectal or bladder irritation
  • Skin changes
  • Vaginal scarring
  • Bowel obstruction

How long does radiation therapy last?

It depends on the type of radiation therapy, the stage of the cancer and other personal factors. Normally it lasts for several months with several treatments per week.