Discharge Instructions for Radiation Therapy

Discharge Instructions for Radiation Therapy

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Discharge Instructions for Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and help you in your fight against cancer. Radiation destroys cancer cells gradually, over time. The goal of therapy is to focus on and kill as many cancer cells as possible. Radiation can also damage or kill some of the normal cells that are closest to the tumor. Damaged normal cells can repair themselves, often within a few days.

Caring for Your Skin

  • Don’t be surprised if your treatment causes slight burns to your skin. Some radiation treatments can cause this. 

  • Don’t scrub or use soap on the treated area.

  • Ask your therapy team what lotion to use. Also ask for directions about when and how to apply it.

  • Avoid sun on the treated area. Ask your therapy team about using a sunscreen.

  • Don’t remove ink marks unless your radiation therapist says it’s OK. Don’t scrub or use soap on the marks when you wash. Let water run over them and pat them dry.

  • Protect your skin from heat or cold. Avoid hot tubs, saunas, heating pads, or ice packs.

  • Avoid clothing that causes friction or rubbing on the skin.

Fighting Fatigue

Radiation therapy may cause you to feel tired. Your body is working hard to heal and repair itself. To feel better, try these things:

  • Do light exercise each day. Take short walks.

  • Plan tasks for the times when you tend to have the most energy. Ask for help when you need it.

  • Relax before you go to bed. This will help you sleep better. Try reading or listening to soothing music.

Coping with Appetite Changes

  • Tell your therapy team if you find it hard to eat or you have no appetite. You may be referred to a nutritionist to help you with meal planning.

  • Radiation can cause nausea, depending on the location of treatment. This can affect your appetite. Think of healthy eating as part of your treatment. Try these tips:

    • Eat slowly.

    • Eat small meals several times a day.

    • Eat more food when you’re feeling better.

    • Ask others to keep you company when you eat.

    • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

    • Eat foods high in protein and calories. Your health care provider may recommend liquid meal supplements.

    • Drink plenty of water and other fluids.

    • Ask your doctor before taking any vitamins.

Dealing with Other Side Effects

  • Be prepared for hair loss in the area being treated. The hair often grows back after treatment.

  • Sip cool water if your mouth or throat becomes dry or sore. Ice chips may also help.

  • Tell your doctor if you have diarrhea or constipation. You may be given a special diet.

  • If you have trouble swallowing liquids, tell your doctor.


Make a follow-up appointment as directed by your health care provider.


When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Wheezing, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing

  • Pain that doesn’t go away, especially if it’s always in the same place

  • New or unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Unusual rashes, bruises, or bleeding

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or chills

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea that doesn’t improve with time

  • Skin breakdown; significant pain due to skin irritation