Radiation therapy is used to shrink tumors and slow the growth of brain cancer . It’s often used together with chemotherapy or surgery to give doctors the best chance of completely removing the tumor. It’s also used for people who aren’t able to undergo surgery.

    Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Radiation is concentrated beams of energy. It’s also used in X-rays in lower doses to produce an image of the inside of your body. When the DNA of cancer cells is damaged, the cells are unable to divide or grow and eventually die.

    However, radiation therapy also damages the DNA of healthy cells around the part of your body where radiation is delivered. It’s especially prone to damaging rapidly growing cells such as stem cells.

    Stem cells have the potential to become any other type of cell. When these are damaged, your body is unable to create new cells to replace the cells in your body when they die — at least temporarily. Not replacing these cells may cause you to develop side effects that usually pass after 2 to 3 weeks.

    Radiation therapy can cause side effects due to damage to healthy brain tissue and cells around your head and neck. The goal is to deliver the lowest possible effective dose of radiation to minimize damage to healthy brain tissue.

    Some side effects appear shortly after treatment while others may not occur for months or years.

    Early side effects usually appear within a few weeks of treatment and pass within 3 weeks.

    Fatigue and mood changes

    Fatigue and mood changes are among the most common side effects of radiation therapy.

    Fatigue has been reported in up to 90 percent of people with cancer treated with radiation. Many people undergoing radiation therapy find they need to prioritize rest or take time off from work. Fatigue is different from a feeling of tiredness, and it may build over time as you continue radiation treatment.

    Scheduling time throughout the day for naps and exercising regularly are two strategies that may help you deal with your fatigue.

    Many people find they may have more energy at certain times of day, so you may want to take this into account when planning your day.

    Fatigue may last up to a year after treatment.

    Mood changes may include irritability, depression, and anxiety. Hormonal imbalances caused by radiation therapy and psychological factors can both play a role in the development of mood changes.

    Hair loss

    Many people who receive radiation lose a noticeable amount of hair.

    A recent study found that 75 to 100 percent of people develop noticeable hair loss on their scalp after receiving radiation greater than 2 gray (Gy), which is a low dose. The study found that 50 percent of people with cancer treated with 36.1 Gy of radiation experience severe hair loss.

    Hair loss generally starts 2 to 3 weeks after starting radiation therapy.

    The American Cancer Association notes that hair often grows back within 3 to 6 months after radiation treatment is finished.

    Nausea and vomiting

    About 50 to 80 percent of people undergoing traditional radiation therapy develop nausea and vomiting during or after treatment. Nausea may come in waves and may appear before vomiting.

    Several types of medication can help treat nausea and vomiting, including corticosteroids . You can work with your doctor to find the treatment that is right for you.

    Skin changes

    Approximately 85 percent of people undergoing modern radiation therapy experience moderate to severe skin reactions around the treatment area. Some people develop dry and peeling patches of skin, while others develop skin that looks sunburned, puffy, red, or swollen.

    Severe reactions may include blistering, skin loss, and ulcers. It’s fairly common to develop sores in your mouth .

    If you develop severe skin reactions, your doctor may adjust your radiation dosage.


    Radiation therapy can cause swelling of the brain that causes headaches . Headaches are a less common side effect than fatigue or irritability but can affect your quality of life. There are several medications that can help the pain from these headaches. Your doctor may also recommend steroids to address headaches.

    If you experience new or worsening headaches, it’s important to let your doctor know. You can work together to find the right medication for your symptoms.

    Vision changes

    Some people develop blurry vision or other vision changes because of damage to cells in the eyes or optic nerve. Vision changes due to damage to the optic nerve is a rare side effect but can seriously impact your vision. It’s important to immediately report any visual changes to your doctor.

    Radiation necrosis

    Radiation necrosis is a rare side effect where a lump of dead tissue forms at the tumor site months or years after the initial treatment. It can often be managed with corticosteroids, but in some cases, you may need surgery.

    Increased risk of another brain tumor

    Radiation can damage the DNA of your healthy cells, increasing your chances of developing cancer in your brain, surrounding tissue, or skull. The risk is small, and when it happens, tumors usually occur years after radiation.

    Memory and cognitive changes

    If large areas of your brain become damaged, you can potentially develop cognitive changes, such as:

    • problems concentrating
    • personality changes
    • memory loss
    • specific symptoms to the part of your brain damaged
    • hormonal imbalances


    Swelling of your brain due to radiation can lead to seizures . If you develop new or worsening seizures, it’s important to contact your doctor as soon as possible.

    More than half of people with cancer receive radiation therapy. However, people with certain health considerations may not be eligible for radiation therapy. These considerations include:

    • pregnancy
    • connective tissue disorders, such as lupus or scleroderma
    • previous radiation to the head or neck
    • children under 3 years old

    Radiation therapy damages the DNA of cancer cells to help shrink tumors or slow the progression of cancer. It can also damage healthy cells and lead to side effects.

    Common side effects include hair loss, fatigue, mood changes, nausea, and vomiting. Some side effects may not appear for months or years after treatment.

    It’s important to alert your doctor or other health professionals about any side effects you’re having. They can help you avoid severe complications and adjust your treatment if necessary.

    What can radiation do to your brain?
    Some short-term memory loss and difficulty thinking can occur if you are treated with whole-brain radiation therapy. Brain tissue swelling can develop during treatment. You may get a headache or feel pressure in your head if this occurs. more
    How long do people live after whole brain radiation?
    The WBRT response rate ranges from 40 to 60%, and the median survival time (MST) ranges from 3 to 6 months [3–9]. Potential risks of WBRT include hair loss, nausea, and neuro-cognitive deficits. more
    Is whole brain radiation painful?
    If the cancer is in many areas, sometimes the whole brain is treated with radiation. The side effects of whole brain radiation therapy may not be noticeable until a few weeks after treatment begins. Radiation to the brain can cause these short-term side effects: Headaches. more
    Can radiation to the brain cause dementia?
    Radiation-induced cognitive impairment, including dementia, is reported to occur in up to 50–90% of adult brain tumor patients who survive >6 months post-irradiation (Crossen et al., 1994; Giovagnoli and Boiardi, 1994; Johannesen et al., 2003; Meyers and Brown, 2006). more
    Is whole brain radiation a last resort?
    Whole-brain radiation therapy (WBRT) is the treatment of last resort in the management of brain metastasis. Our duty to our patients is to cause the least harm possible balanced against the goals of therapy. more
    How long can you live after whole brain radiation?
    The WBRT response rate ranges from 40 to 60%, and the median survival time (MST) ranges from 3 to 6 months [3–9]. Potential risks of WBRT include hair loss, nausea, and neuro-cognitive deficits. more
    How many times can you have whole brain radiation?
    Whole-brain radiation applies radiation to the entire brain in order to kill tumor cells. People undergoing whole-brain radiation usually require 10 to 15 treatments over two to three weeks. Side effects may include fatigue, nausea and hair loss. more
    Will my hair grow back after whole brain radiation?
    For example, if you're having whole brain radiotherapy to treat your symptoms it's likely that your hair will grow back. Whereas treatment to try to cure cancer uses a high dose of radiation and so permanent hair loss is much more common. more
    Can you drive after brain radiation?
    You'll need to have a responsible care partner take you home after your treatment. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you can drive. Your care partner will need to stay with you for the first 24 hours after your treatment. more
    How long can you live after brain radiation?
    Survival analysis The median follow-up of patients was 7 months, with a minimum of 2 months and a maximum of 34 months. At the end of the study period, 25 deaths were registered (71%). The median survival with brain metastases was 4.43 months, ranging from 0.73 months to 78.53 months. more
    What are the side effects of radiation treatment on the brain?
    Treatment areas and possible side effects Part of the body being treated Possible side effects Brain Fatigue Hair loss Memory or concentration problems Nausea and vomiting Skin changes Headache Blurry vision Breast Fatigue Hair loss Skin changes Swelling (edema) Tenderness more

    Source: www.healthline.com

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