Managing the Side Effects of Radiation

Emily Mackler
Emily Mackler, Pharm.D.

Pharmacist's Corner

By Molly Brummond, R.N., U-M Department of Radiation Oncology, and Emily Mackler, Pharm.D., U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program

About 60 percent of patients diagnosed with cancer will receive radiation therapy. Radiation in high doses damages cancer cells by interfering with the cell’s ability to grow and reproduce. However, normal cells of the surrounding tissue can also be affected, leading to side effects.

Side effects only occur in the area of the body that is receiving the radiation. The severity depends on your dose of radiation, whether you’re also receiving chemotherapy and the size of the treatment field.

Side Effect Ways to Manage
Fatigue Sleep at least 8 hours each night
Take extra rest periods
Let others help you
Get light exercise each day
Skin Changes Wear sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, and clothing to protect your skin
Keep the area clean and dry
Wear loose-fitted clothing and soft fabrics
Use a mild soap and no deodorants, powders or other products to the area receiving radiation
Discuss skin care products with your health care team
Mouth Sores/
Pain (Mucositis)
Keep your mouth clean
Rinse your mouth every 1-2 hours with a solution of salt and soda
(1/4 tsp. baking soda + 1/8 tsp. salt in 1 cup of water)
Eat foods that are easy to chew and swallow
Use Magic Mouthwash, Mugard or Gelclair if prescribed
Take pain medications by mouth if prescribed
Tell your health care team if pain worsens or it is difficult to swallow
Dry Mouth
Use a saliva substitute
Sip on water often
Suck on ice chips
Discuss medications that may increase saliva production with your health care team
Eat foods and beverages that are bland and easy on your stomach (ie BRAT diet)
Utilize antinausea medications as prescribed
Stay hydrated by drinking water, sports beverages and/or clear sodas
Diarrhea Eat foods and beverages that are low in fiber and fat, avoid raw fruits and vegetables
Stay hydrated by drinking water, sports beverages and/or clear sodas
Take anti-diarrheals as directed by your health care team

To make an appointment for medication management, call 734-647-8911.

Learn more about radiation treatment, and how to manage the side effects of treatment:

Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2013