Short-term side effects are quite common with radiotherapy

Short-term side effects

Radiotherapy is not normally painful, although you may find lying still during treatment uncomfortable if you are still recovering from surgery. It is likely that you will experience some short-term side effects from radiotherapy.

These include:

  • Reddening of the area of skin treated
  • Possible burning (like a strong sunburn) to that area
  • Tiredness Side effects may develop slowly as your treatment progresses but should disappear within a few weeks of your treatment finishing.

You will be reviewed throughout your treatment to assess how you are getting on and to identify any side effects. Your breast care nurse can give you advice on managing side effects, such as using a lotion to relieve dry skin, and avoiding using certain deodorants and talcum powder which may irritate skin reactions.

Long-term side effects

Long-term side effects that you may experience include slight hardening of the treated tissue, known as fibrosis, and small changes in the appearance of your breast such as its size, shape or colour. Lymphoedema is a possible long-term side effect if your armpit has been treated by radiotherapy.

Breast radiotherapy can also sometimes cause weakening of your ribs, or heart and lung problems, but this is rare.

Some of these side effects are becoming less common with newer radiotherapy equipment, which can target the tumour area even more precisely.

Need more information?

You can find information on managing lymphoedema at Breast Cancer Care and The Lymphoedema Support Network

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Breast Cancer Now’s health information is produced following best practice guidelines developed by the Patient Information Forum. 

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