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Side effects vary from patient to patient. Many side effects can be cumulative, which is to say they develop over the course of treatment as the radiation accumulates in the tumor. They can be minor or severe, depending on the size and location of the tumor and your general medical condition. Two of the most common side effects of radiation treatments are irritation or damage to the skin near the treatment site, and fatigue. Serious side effects are treatment site specific and can include diarrhea, nausea, swelling at the treatment site, lymphedema and secondary cancer. After head and neck treatments you may experience pain in the mouth or pharynx. You can ask your team about what side effects you may expect during your specific treatment.
No, you cannot feel the radiation beam, nor can you see it. You may hear some low-level sounds from the linear accelerator rotates around you or as the beam-shaping MLC moves. If you have trouble remaining still during treatment, you may, at times, feel discomfort. However, your clinical team will work with you to make you as comfortable as possible.
Many patients are able to continue most of their usual activities during treatment, including work and mild exercise. However, your energy level may decrease toward the end of your treatment course. If so, you should allow yourself the extra rest you need. Fatigue typically subsides within weeks after treatment ends. Again, it is important that you consult with your doctor and healthcare team about the type of activities and exercise you may continue during your radiotherapy.
External-beam radiation treatment— where the source of the radiation is a machine outside your body—will not make you radioactive. After the radiation is delivered, there is no lingering radiation.