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Managing the Side Effects of Radiation

Emily Mackler
Emily Mackler, Pharm.D.

contributed by Molly Brummond, R.N., U-M Department of Radiation Oncology, and Emily Mackler, Pharm.D., U-M Rogel 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
    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
    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.

Do you have a question for the pharmacist? Email us at [email protected]

Read the Summer, 2013 issue of Thrive.

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

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Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2013