Proven ways to cope with the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer


Side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer can appear after about the first week of radiation therapy. The surprising fact is you may feel these side effects differ depending on various factors. Even though radiotherapy is a painless treatment the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer create painful outcomes. They become worse and even more severe. Fortunately, you can have a normal life even with these side effects. Let’s find out how to fight against the side effects of radiotherapy.

Although radiotherapy is an effective and first-line treatment for lung cancer it can cause damage to healthy cells in the same manner. This can lead to many side effects that the person can experience.

  • External beam radiotherapy
  • Internal beam radiotherapy (Brachytherapy) 

are the major types of radiotherapy available for lung cancer patients.

Most of the time you can feel side effects locally. Because radiotherapy for lung cancer is a localized treatment. Keep reading and you’ll notice how easy it is to defeat the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer. However better management will provide you a better life even with those unexpected effects.

Table of Contents

What are the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

What does a side effect mean?

A side effect is an unwanted outcome from medication or treatment. Side effects appear with the desired therapeutic effect. Moreover, it may be simple to severe.

Why does radiation cause side effects?

Radiotherapy for lung cancer can harm nearby healthy cells. While they kill cancer cells, radiation exposure of normal cells causes their death also. As you know, damage to healthy cells leads to unwanted side effects. Because their death can cause many unnecessary reactions in the body.

What are the most common side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

  • Fatigue or feeling of tiredness
  • Skin problems
  • Hair loss
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • A sore throat
  • Cough
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety, depression

1.  Fatigue

How can you feel fatigued after radiotherapy?

Fatigue means you can feel extreme weakness even when you are at rest. It resembles a lack of energy and feeling exhausted. You may feel this physically, mentally, and even emotionally. Fatigue has a strong association with cancer and its treatments. Even though the reasons behind fatigue cannot be fully explained yet, some facts have links with causing cancer-related fatigue.

What causes cancer-related fatigue?

  • Cancer can form toxic substances/chemicals inside the body. Those toxic materials harm normal body cells.
  • Cancer itself and cancer treatments can change the body’s protein and hormone levels. This causes increased inflammatory responses which ultimately create or worsen cancer-related fatigue.

Inflammation is a normal protective process of the body. It attacks the foreign cells by treating them as a “wound”. Radiotherapy also causes cell damage and makes wound inflammation begin and it damages normal cells associated with cancer cells as well.

  • Cancer treatments kill cancer cells and may be normal cells. So they make a huge collection of cell waste inside the body. For removing these dead cells the normal healthy cells have to consume more energy. The increased workload for normal cells makes them tired.

Should I talk to the doctor about fatigue?

Most people who are receiving radiotherapy for lung cancer feel fatigued after the treatment. They may feel this at different levels. Only you can sense this exhausted feeling. No diagnostic test or treatment methods to measure or identify fatigue.

However, managing this feeling makes your life easier and more convenient. You can always talk to your healthcare team and discuss with them how to deal with fatigue. Because you must have radiation.

Identify how you can feel the weakness, at what time, it may be after radiation or during the time. What activities make your sensation worse? Make sure you have to talk to your healthcare team,

  •  if your condition is not going to reduce or it becomes worse
  • You cannot do your daily activities even the simple things
  • You cannot get enough sleep
  • You cannot get out of bed more than 24 hours
  • You cannot focus on something
  • You may often get confused.

How to deal with radiotherapy-associated fatigue?

  • Drink enough water
  • Have a balanced meal
  • Find activities that you can enjoy
  • Get short naps if you feel calm and rest
  • If you are working, look for the options to work calmly and if possible work from home.
  • Enjoy your company, talk with your friends.
  • Ask for support and company from your family, close friends to make your daily activities easier and comfortable for you. For instance shopping, leisure time activities, your hobbies, etc.
  • Talk with professionals like occupational therapists, social workers, volunteer helpers, or someone who you can put trust in. Discuss with them about your interests and conditions, feelings about the disease. They are always ready and trained especially to help you.
  • Put your focus on interesting things and activities that you like to do. This pushes away your attention on the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer and keeps your mind relaxed.
  • Do some household activities, gardening, and small creations like wood or DIY creations if you can. This will enhance your abilities and also improve your mental health.
  • Try to introduce your creations or tasks to someone confidently. This will bring back to you the previous healthy life and people tend to accept you as an independent person.
  • If you have children, please make sure to make space to live with them. Play with them and make some joyful activities if it is possible. Children can keep your mind refreshed and happy.

2.  Skin problems

What are the Skin problems can you feel after radiotherapy?

The surprising fact is you may not feel any skin problems after your radiotherapy for lung cancer? Yes, you heard it right. Skin problems may vary in presence among patients. Some factors decide the appearance of skin reactions after radiotherapy.

  • The type of radiotherapy you have received
  • The exposed area of your body to the radiation
  • The dose of the radiation
  • The condition of your skin

Those factors have a higher impact on skin problems due to radiotherapy.

You may feel in the area that exposed to the radiation,

  • Get red
  • Itching
  • Swollen
  • Appear blisters
  • The skin’s appearance becomes sunburned or suntanned skin.

After few weeks your skin becomes,

  • dry
  • You may feel peeling skin
  • Cracked skin
  • Flaking
  • Scaling
  • You may become more sensitive to sunlight.

You should talk to your doctor about these skin problems. Then they can get correct prevention care for you. Otherwise, this may get worse, and finally, it may be an obstacle to you.


How to take care of your skin after radiotherapy for lung cancer?

You can follow up with some simple remedies to reduce those skin problems.

  • Keep attention to your skin regularly.
  • Keep your skin dry and clean always.
  • Use gentle skincare products
  • Avoid perfumes and fragrances include irritants
  • Keep your nails and hair clean
  • Be gentle to your skin always
  • Drink a sufficient amount of water
  • Eat a balanced healthy meal
  • Avoid extreme temperatures
  • Do not wear tightly fitted clothes or socks.
  • Avoid clothes with rough textures and which can cause itching.
  • Protect yourself from sunlight whenever it is possible
  • Learn and know what can happen and prepare yourself.

3.  Hair loss

Does radiotherapy actually cause hair loss? Yes, it is. Let us know why cancer radiotherapy causes hair loss (alopecia).

Radiotherapy damages cancer cells and the hair follicles of the skin. Because radiation kills the rapidly proliferating cells. Subsequently, this causes hair loss.  You may only lose the hair of the skin that is exposed to the radiation. If you have to get radiotherapy to your head, the head hair will also be reduced. After about three to six months of radiation, your hair will grow back. But unfortunately, new hair will have a different texture.

How to cope with hair loss from radiotherapy?

Actually, you may feel uncomfortable with losing hair. However, you can take some effective actions to deal with your hair loss problem.

  • Use gentle shampoo or hair washing products when you wash your scalp.
  • Wash your hair and scalp gently. Do not scrub harshly with your fingers.
  • Try to use mild skin soap for body skin.
  • Make your haircut short and nice gradually. It will be a help not to be a huge change of your appearance.
  • Apply sunscreen.
  • Use hats, caps, or styling clothes to cover your hair or body whenever you need them.
  • If you like you can wear a wig to match your appearance.
  • Talk with your trustworthy friends about your condition.
  • Get some support from groups with the same experienced people.

4.  Sore throat and cough

These are one of the major side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer. Radiation to the chest area might cause lung inflammation. This is known as “acute radiation pneumonitis”. You may get dry cough and shortness of breath soon after radiotherapy.

After the radiotherapy, you may feel your throat and mouth with soreness. Soreness means the feeling of pain and discomfort in your mouth and throat. This can be treated with medicines. You have to keep your mouth clean. Regular self-checking of your mouth and practising good oral health habits will reduce this condition.

How to keep your mouth clean and fresh after radiotherapy for lung cancer?

  • Brush your teeth regularly.
  • Use a soft-bristled brush or child-type toothbrush. Harsh bristled toothbrushes can damage your gums when brushing and ultimately worse the soreness.
  • Use alcohol-free gentle mouthwash if you feel discomfort or pain when brushing with toothpaste.
  • If your doctor advises you to do floss, gently floss your teeth daily. Important to mention, be careful of your gums. Always be gentle.
  • Appoint dental checkups with your dentist.
  • If you use dentures, always keep them clean every morning, evening, and especially after your meals.
  • Have healthy foods good for oral health.
  • Use a lip balm if you are comfortable to make your lips moist.

Do you know the less common side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

Some side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer appear late. Some of the patients even do not get those side effects in their lives.

  • Nervous system damages
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Infections

 What are the long-term side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

Long-term side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer appear a significant time after the treatment. However, they can last long and can do more damage.

  • Breathlessness
  • Easy to get infections
  • Narrowing of the esophagus
  • Heart lining inflammation
  • Spinal cord damage

Why must you know about the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

If you are having one of the lung cancer treatments it is better to have sufficient knowledge about your condition. This means,

  • An idea about the disease condition
  • What is the stage of your disease?
  • What treatments have the doctor prescribed to you?
  • Which medicines do you take and their correct usage?
  • What can be the side effects you may have and how to reduce them?

Having enough knowledge about the disease makes you more successful in managing it. You can always discuss this with your doctor and healthcare team. In summary, when you have enough understanding of what is going on next you can easily and effectively manage your side effects. This leads to easier management of your disease for your doctors. Moreover, the treatments will also be more effective.

How can you get proper knowledge about the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

  • Talk to your doctor. This is the most trusted way to get the correct information.
  • Update with trusted information platforms for example healthcare websites, magazines, journals, etc.
  • Discuss with support care groups.
  • Give proper care about the changes in your own body. Sometimes even you can notice the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer at early stages.

How to deal with side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer during covid-19?

During this current Covid-19 pandemic lung cancer patients who receive routine treatments are in several difficulties. After 12, March 2020 the WHO declared Covid-19 as a global pandemic cancer patients have to take care of themselves double.

If you are having regular treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other such treatments you need to pay much attention to keep yourself safe.

Recent research has identified the Covid-19 crisis has had a bad impact on lung cancer patients. Especially those who need continuous clinical visits, imaging processes, and treatments also.

Research on the negative impact on lung cancer patients during Covid-19 is below. This research is based on the lung cancer clinic at Sun Yat-Sen University Hospital, China.

Figure No.01: different types of anticancer treatments lung cancer patients receive during their regular treatment
Figure No.02 represents the percentage of patients who had a tumor evaluation test after they came to the clinic.
Figure No.03: out of 33 lung cancer patients who receive tumor evaluation the percentage of patients who have disease progression has shown.

  • Lung cancer patients who receive radiotherapy have a high risk of getting infections. Authorities indicate that several other patient factors of lung cancer patients increase the risk.
  • Age 60 years
  • Those who already have heart and vascular problems
  • Those who already have disease in airways/respiratory.

Therefore if you have to take radiotherapy it is essential to take care of yourself.

Guide to manage the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer during Covid-19?

  • Do not miss your clinical treatments or doctor’s visits.
  • Go to the hospital or clinic at the accurate time thus you won’t have unproductive attendance at hospitals.
  • Discuss with your doctor the treatments and precautions you have to take.
  • Wear masks wherever you go outside.
  • Keep your hands clean and obey the general guidelines against coronavirus.
  • Pay attention to your body changes.
  • Take your medicines correctly regularly if you have.
  • Have a healthy meal and drink more water.
  • Keep necessary pain relief medicines with you under your doctor’s supervision.
  • Focus on activities and things you are interested in doing.
  • Take some rest.
  • Be educated and prepare yourself for any situation.
  • Keep your mind calm and relaxed. This pandemic will not remain forever. Important to mention you have to keep yourself as strong physically and mentally as you can.

Who can get the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

In general, not all lung cancer patients who receive radiotherapy do not feel side effects. Usually, lung cancer patients experience side effects after two to three weeks of radiation therapy.

Depending on the

  • patient status or health
  • dose of the radiotherapy you receive
  • Your age
  • Location of the body exposed to radiation and several other factors, side effects can appear differently.

Anyone can get side effects resulting from lung cancer radiotherapy. The important thing is the value or benefits always outweigh the risk of radiotherapy. In other words, radiotherapy has effective outcomes in killing cancer cells out of unwanted side effects.

How worsen are the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer to elders?

Radiation therapy has a negative impact on elderly patients. Due to considerable reasons, elders may experience severe side effects when compared to younger people. Elders have a high probability to feel toxicities from radiation and other treatments. Their high sensitivity keeps them more vulnerable.

Older adult lung cancer patients may not get complete radiation therapy due to the increased side effects. In addition, they may have different other diseases, financial problems, lack of transport facilities. Therefore sometimes these patients are treated with hypofractionated schedules. To clarify, they receive the same total doses of normal treatment schedules but within fewer days or clinical visits. This may increase the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer.

Moreover, older lung cancer patients may have decreased the effectiveness of radiotherapy. Other diseases related to age may cause unwanted and synergistic activity on creating side effects after radiotherapy.

Common questions on side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer.

1. Does radiation damage your heart?

Yes, radiotherapy can cause heart problems. Radiation-induced heart diseases may appear years after stopping the radiotherapy. The patient may experience as a

  • Vascular disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Conduction system problems
  • Enlargement of the heart muscle
  • Pericardial disease

Although radiation dose is a significant risk factor for radiation-induced heart disease several other reasons increase the risk. For example,

  • Having diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet habits
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • etc.

2. Does radiation cause chest pain?

After having the radiotherapy some patients feel chest pain. This is because the nerves of the chest area become swollen and irritated after radiation. If you have difficulty breathing after trying to breathe heavily you may feel chest pain.

3. Can you do chemo after radiation?

Yes, sometimes patients need to have chemotherapy with radiotherapy. Doctors prescribe this intending to increase the effectiveness of the therapy. This is known as chemoradiation therapy. In addition, this treatment will increase the side effects also.

4. Can you do radiation without chemo?

Radiation therapy has its own plans. However, many times doctors prescribe those two treatments together. This will depend on your health, stage of lung cancer, age. Your doctor will choose the best plan for you to gain the maximum effect and minimum side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer.

5. Does radiotherapy shorten your life?

Lung cancer radiotherapy will create long-term side effects. They can negatively affect your life. Researchers have found that the patients who receive radiotherapy have a short life span after exposure to routine radiation therapies. This is thought to be the damage to the normal cells caused by the radiation.

However, doctors always try to prescribe a suitable treatment. Similarly, chemoradiotherapy has an impact on shortening the lifespan of lung cancer patients.

Top 10 must-have habits with you to manage your side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

  1. Have a balanced and delicious meal.

Have a diet that is not only healthy but also delicious enough for you. Make healthy foods delicious. You can always follow different healthy recipes. A balanced healthy meal is a great help to overcome fatigue during radiotherapy. You may sometimes need to change your regular diet. Therefore, take advice from the doctor and choose the best foods for you.

Remember, maintaining a good BMI is important in radiation. This is not the time to go for dieting plans for losing weight.

  • Get enough sleep during radiation therapy.

Take your time to sleep. Most patients who receive radiotherapy experience a lack of sleep during radiotherapy. Keep your mind clear and calm as much as you can. Write down your pain and worries. Avoid short naps during the daytime. Take a shower or be clean before going to bed. Keep your bedroom clean and neat. It will help you to relax and have a good sleep. Getting enough sleep is important to manage the side effects. Likewise, it helps to increase the effectiveness of the treatments.

  • Take care of your skin.

Pay more attention to your skin. Don’t wash off the marks from the simulation test. Otherwise, the radiologist could not identify the correct location. Wash your skin gently and use skincare products wisely.

  • Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible.

Direct sunlight has harmful UV rays that can harm your skin. After the radiation, the skin might get more sensitive. Wear a protective cloth and a hat or cap when going outside. Apply sunscreen with an SPF value of 30 or more.

  • Do physical activities you like to do.

If you are already physically active go for a walk, do exercises. This will help cancer patients with stress management, mood fixing, and maintain good mental health.

  • Have a good companion.

If you have friends, keep talking to them. Do not think you are a cancer patient and cannot do anything. Find good friends who can understand and help you. Do some interesting activities with them if you can. Engage in games that you can play with your friends.

  1. Do yoga, meditation, or relaxing rituals.

Yoga and meditation have proven effects on calming your mind. With your medicinal therapies just have a try at those methods. Find an instructor or watch some videos that you can learn by yourself. Select the best yoga methods with the help of an instructor. That will help you to overcome depression and many mental health problems. Furthermore, researchers have proven meditation can increase the effectiveness of the medications also.

  • Listen to calm and relaxing music or play instruments if you like.

If you like music, that is a gift to you. Listen to your favourite music whenever you need it. Relaxing music tracks can be downloaded easily from the internet. Music can calm your mind. Moreover, it can help you to keep focus. It heals the mind and body.

  • Keep yourself beautiful.

Always pay attention to your appearance. Do not give up on your regular beauty habits. Have a good look even if you have cancer. It will boost your confidence and personality also. Do not give up all the good beauty habits previously with you. Keep your appearance simple and as best as you can. Then others will identify you as a strong person.

  1. Talk to a support group you have trust whenever you need it.

Remember always, you are not alone. If you feel you want to talk with someone, do it. Discuss with your family members, close friends, or trusted people. If you need more care, talk to a psychologist or social worker. They have plenty of experiences with similar patients like you. Clarify if you have any questions about lung cancer by discussing them. This will remove all your wrong myths, ideas about cancer and provide you the confidence.

It is natural to have anxiety, hopelessness, and depressed feelings after you have been diagnosed with lung cancer. But of course, you are not the only person in this community. Keep remembering that.

10 habits worsen your side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer

  1. Thinking always as a lung cancer patient.
  2. Not getting medications correctly.
  3. Do not eat well.
  4. Smoking and over alcohol consumption
  5. Too much screen time with your mobile phones, TVs or computers, etc.
  6. Not getting enough physical activities.
  7. Low fruit and vegetable intake.
  8. Not getting enough sleep
  9. Lack of knowledge on your lung cancer and possible side effects
  10. Not attending oncology clinics and not getting the treatments at the correct time.

What are the best food habits to reduce the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

Following healthy food habits will help to reduce the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer.

  • Add more green organic vegetables to your regular meals.
  • You may avoid some fruits due to some side effects of radiotherapy. For instance lemon, citrus fruits, apples, pears due to mouth soreness.
  • Cook your meal with healthy foods deliciously. Most cancer patients experience loss of appetite as a major side effect of radiotherapy. In contrast, you may have worse side effects if you don’t have a well-balanced meal. Therefore carefully prepare your diet to induce your appetite.
  • Avoid processed foods like processed meats.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Eat fruits like blueberries, bananas, pomegranates, mulberries, etc.
  • Do not eat deep-fried foods, junk foods, grilled foods.
  • Avoid eating foods with a lot of salt, sugar, and oil.
  • Keep away those foods with a lot of preservatives from you.
  • Do not eat raw and unpasteurized foods.

How to deal with society with the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

Patients often feel fear, anxiety, anger, shame, depression, and difficulties with society. They may experience those with either diagnosis with lung cancer or after having treatments followed by side effects. Do you know how to cope with social distress?

  • Get educated enough about your disease.
  • Be confident even with cancer always. Your mental health is a key to your physical improvement.
  • Talk to friends, social workers, or psychologists and learn the effective methods to cooperate with society.
  • Do not be shy or afraid when talking to other people.
  • Get some advice on how to explain your condition to people. Then you will not be stuck in such situations.
  • Believe in yourself and think as a confident person.

How to do your job even with the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer?

Surprisingly most lung cancer patients do their job during the treatments. Here are valuable tips to do your work even with the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer.

  • Talk with your boss.

Early telling to your boss will be a great help if he or she understands your condition. Explain to your boss you can do your work as much as possible and always try your best. Of course, try to do so. Ask for convenient working hours if possible.

  • Tell your co-workers

Discuss with your co-workers about your condition. Hiding all the relevant matters will not always be a help. Get their support and do your work effectively.

  • Try to manage your work schedule without interfering with treatments.

You must go for your clinic visits and treatments at the correct time. Discuss with the authorities and explain the situation clearly. Do not miss your routine therapies. Otherwise, it will worsen your side effects also.

  • Keep your medicines and other essential clinical records with you.

This will be helpful in an emergency

  • Always keep logging of your daily work and know your future work schedule.

Keep a diary and note down or using suitable software you can do this. Logging will help you to easily memorize your work and it won’t mess you up. If you can know your future work schedule it will be helpful for early preparations.

  • If possible, maintain your accommodations nearby.

Keeping your workstation near to the exit or bathrooms or wherever you prefer and comfortable, makes you more effective working.

  • Don’t be shy or nervous when asking for help.

Ask for help and support from your friends at your workplace. Do not be shy or afraid in any case of discomfort. Tell them politely. Always get supported.

30 Interesting hobbies you can follow with the side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer.

First, identify your interests and select the best hobbies for you which can keep you happy.

  1. Reading interesting books
  2. Crafting
  3. Painting
  4. Poetry
  5. Clay arts
  6. Writing articles
  7. Knitting
  8. Journaling
  9. Gardening at home
  10. Volunteering in support groups for other cancer patients as a mentor.
  11. Learn different cuisine
  12. Explore different cultures
  13. Write your own book
  14. Bird watching
  15. Take hiking and traveling
  16. Go to aquariums
  17. Go to botanical gardens
  18. Learn a different language
  19. Meet good old friends
  20. Find a good connection with friends from different regions
  21. Start your own blog
  22. Vlogging
  23. Redecorate your own place
  24. Attend online workshops at your interesting fields
  25. Learn origami
  26. Sew some clothes you can wear
  27. Make little gifts for your close family members
  28. Visit art galleries
  29. Join a book club
  30. Go to your favorite artists’ concert

Try to be busy with your work. It will forget all your pain from the unwanted side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer.

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