Lung Cancer

Side effects of radiotherapy for lung cancer

Side effects vary depending on the type and site of treatment and on the person's general fitness. 

Radiotherapy itself is painless, but sometimes people experience some pain soon after the first treatment. Most people did not complain of pain, but one woman experienced quite severe pain after a single dose of radiotherapy. She felt better five days later. 

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Most of those who had radiotherapy to the lung through the back or chest experienced other side effects, such as indigestion or sore throat. These side effects appeared soon after the treatment started but sometimes only 7-10 days afterwards. 

During the second week of CHART treatment, one man found he was bringing up more sputum (spit) than usual. He also had a dry throat, became hoarse, and had some trouble swallowing. The skin on his chest became a little sore, and was treated with aqueous cream.

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Some people had quite severe side effects. One man complained of a burnt oesophagus (gullet). He said that he could not eat solid food, or take very hot or very cold drinks during the treatment and for a week afterwards. He scratched the skin on his back and made it very sore. However, the hospital gave him medicines to help him cope with these side effects. Other people said that if the throat was sore it was a good idea to avoid spicy food and alcohol because it may sting the throat.

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People may lose weight if they can't eat comfortably. One woman had radiotherapy to her head and chest at the same time. She lost her hair, and she also lost a lot of weight because her oesophagus was so sore. Her sleep was also disturbed. She found it impossible to sleep lying down because acid reflux from her stomach burnt her oesophagus, so she slept upright in a chair.

One woman (who had 15 sessions of radiotherapy to her chest) remembered that during treatment she felt nauseous and very tired. Another person said she felt like a “washed out dishcloth”, weak and depressed.

A woman, who had radiotherapy to her head after the cancer had spread to the brain, found that her hair fell out. She also felt exhausted. Another woman, who also had radiotherapy to her head, said that her scalp was very itchy, which made it impossible to wear her wig. She wore a baseball cap instead.

Last reviewed May 2016.

Last updated May 2010.

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