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How Should I Care for Myself During Radiation Therapy?

Get plenty of rest.

Many patients experience fatigue during radiation therapy, so it is important to make sure you are well rested. If possible, ask friends and family to help out during treatment by running errands and preparing meals. This will help you get the rest needed to focus on fighting cancer. If more help is needed, social workers or nurses may have more information on local cancer support groups or other resources. Volunteers also may be able to help. 

Even though rest is important, there is good evidence to suggest that some physical activity during treatment can help decrease fatigue. For example, many patients feel a daily walk helps decrease some of their treatment-related fatigue. You should ask your radiation oncologist what the best form of daily exercise might be for you.

Follow doctor’s orders.

In many cases, your doctor will ask you to call if any concerning symptoms develop. For example, the treatment team may direct you to call with a fever of 101 degrees F or higher. It is important to read and follow these instructions during treatment. If you are unsure, you should not hesitate to contact the treatment team with questions. 

Eat a balanced diet.

A nutritionist, nurse or doctor may work with you to make sure you are eating the right foods to get the vitamins and minerals you need. With certain types of radiation, you may need to change your diet to minimize side effects. You should not attempt to lose weight during radiation therapy since you need more calories due to your cancer and treatment.

Stay Hydrated.

In some cases, you may be at risk of becoming dehydrated during treatment. Helpful fluids may include electrolyte solutions, juice, sorbet, broth and water. You should discuss with your doctor what strategies will work best. 

Treat the skin that is exposed to radiation with extra care.

The skin in the area receiving treatment may become red and sensitive, similar to a sunburn. The radiation oncology nurses will review specific instructions for caring for your skin with you. Some guidelines include:

  • Clean the skin daily with warm water and a mild soap recommended by the team.
  • Avoid using any lotions, perfumes, deodorants or powders in the treatment area unless approved by the team. Avoid products containing alcohol, which may cause dryness.
  • Avoid putting anything hot or cold on the treated skin. This includes heating pads and ice packs.
  • Stay out of the sun. If you must be outdoors, you should wear a hat or clothing to protect the skin. After treatment, use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

Seek out support.

There are many emotional demands on you and your caregivers during the cancer diagnosis and treatment. It is common to feel anxious, depressed, afraid or hopeless. It may help to talk about these feelings. To find a support group in the area, ask the radiation treatment team. There are many groups that meet in person, over the phone or on the Internet. Some support organizations can even help manage financial issues, such as insurance and co-pays.

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