When you have radiation treatment for cancer, your body goes through changes. Follow your health care provider's instructions on how to care for yourself at home. Use the information below as a reminder.
What to Expect at Home
About 2 weeks after radiation treatment starts, you might notice changes in your skin. Most of these symptoms go away after your treatments have stopped.
- Your skin and mouth may turn red.
- Your skin might start to peel or get dark.
- Your skin may itch.
Your body hair will fall out after about 2 weeks, but only in the area being treated. When your hair grows back, it may be different than before.
Around the second or third week after radiation treatments start, you may have:
- Cramping in your belly
- An upset stomach
When you have radiation treatment, color markings are drawn on your skin. Do not remove them. These show where to aim the radiation. If they come off, do not redraw them. Tell your provider instead.
To take care of the treatment area:
- Wash gently with lukewarm water only. Don't scrub.
- Use a mild soap that doesn't dry out your skin.
- Pat your skin dry.
- Don't use lotions, ointments, makeup, perfumed powders, or products on the treatment area. Ask your provider what you should use.
- Keep the area that is being treated out of the direct sun.
- Don't scratch or rub your skin.
- Don't put a heating pad or an ice bag on the treatment area.
Tell your provider if you have any break or opening in your skin.
Wear loose-fitting clothing around your stomach and pelvis.
You will likely feel tired after a few weeks. If so:
- Don't try to do too much. You probably will not be able to do everything you used to.
- Try to get more sleep at night. Rest during the day when you can.
- Take a few weeks off work, or work less.
Ask your provider before taking any drugs or other remedies for an upset stomach.
Don't eat for 4 hours before your treatment. If your stomach feels upset just before your treatment:
- Try a bland snack, such as toast or crackers and apple juice.
- Try to relax. Read, listen to music, or do a crossword puzzle.
If your stomach is upset right after radiation treatment:
- Wait 1 to 2 hours after your treatment before eating.
- Your provider may prescribe medicines to help.
For an upset stomach:
- Stay on the special diet that your provider or dietitian recommends for you.
- Eat small meals and eat more often during the day.
- Eat and drink slowly.
- Don't eat foods that are fried or are high in fat.
- Drink cool liquids between meals.
- Eat foods that are cool or at room temperature, instead of warm or hot. Cooler foods will smell less.
- Choose foods with a mild odor.
- Try a clear, liquid diet -- water, weak tea, apple juice, peach nectar, clear broth, and plain Jell-O.
- Eat bland food, such as dry toast or Jell-O.
To help with diarrhea:
- Try a clear, liquid diet.
- Don't eat raw fruits and vegetables and other high-fiber foods, coffee, beans, cabbage, whole grain breads and cereals, sweets, or spicy foods.
- Eat and drink slowly.
- Don't drink milk or eat any other dairy products if they bother your bowels.
- When the diarrhea starts to improve, eat small amounts of low-fiber foods, such as white rice, bananas, applesauce, mashed potatoes, low-fat cottage cheese, and dry toast.
- Eat foods that are high in potassium (bananas, potatoes, and apricots) when you have diarrhea.
Eat enough protein and calories to keep your weight up.
Your provider may check your blood counts regularly, especially if the radiation treatment area is large.
Radiation - abdomen - discharge; Cancer - abdominal radiation; Lymphoma - abdominal radiation
Doroshow JH. Approach to the patient with cancer. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 169.
National Cancer Institute website. Radiation therapy and you: support for people with cancer. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/radiationttherapy.pdf. Updated October 2016. Accessed July 1, 2022.
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Review Date 1/25/2022
Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.