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Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Sarcoma

Side effects are different for everyone and they depend on the area of your body treated with radiation. Some patients have very few side effects while others may feel discomfort during treatment.

  • Fatigue – Fatigue, or tiredness, is common and may develop slowly throughout treatment. Tiredness usually improves within a few weeks after finishing radiation treatment. New research suggests that regular exercise can lessen tiredness. Talk with your doctor about how to exercise during treatment.
  • Skin Irritation – Skin irritation may develop throughout the course of radiation that is similar to a sunburn. This can be common with radiation for sarcomas of the arms, legs, or chest, but unusual for patients with a sarcoma in the abdomen. Skin irritation is usually limited to the area around the tumor or prior surgery.
  • Bowel irritation – Loose or more frequent stools along with nausea and/or vomiting is possible when radiation is used to treat a tumor inside the abdomen. This will not happen if your sarcoma was located in the leg or another part of the body away from the stomach or bowel.
  • Pain – Skin irritation and swelling can cause pain during the course of radiation. Many patients can use over the counter pain medications such as Tylenol to manage the pain during treatment, but some may require stronger medications. If pain develops, it should improve a few weeks after radiation ends.
  • Lymphedema – Lymphedema, or swelling, can occur after surgery and radiation. With new surgical and radiation techniques, severe permanent swelling is rare. Physical therapy may help reduce the risk of lymphedema.
  • Hair loss – Hair loss may occur within the radiation treatment area. This is usually limited to the area around the tumor or prior surgery.

Long-term side effects of radiation may occur, but are rare. These include problems with wound healing, stiffening of the muscles or joints near the original site of the cancer, a bone fracture or a second cancer that may be related to a prior radiation treatment. It is important to discuss possible long-term side effects with your doctor.

There are usually no dietary or activity restrictions for patients being treated with radiation for sarcoma. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any supplements or medications you may be taking during treatment.