Side effects of radiation therapy for bladder cancer are common. Your radiation oncologist will explain the possible side effects, including uncommon side effects that may involve the abdomen, the pelvis, and the genital area. Home treatment measures may help you manage the side effects. For more information, see the Home Treatment section of the topic Bladder Cancer.
Fatigue is a common side effect, especially in the latter weeks of treatment and for several weeks afterward. Rest is important, but health professionals usually advise you to stay reasonably active, matching your activities to your energy level.
Radiation therapy to the lower abdomen may cause problems with bowel functioning, such as constipation or severe diarrhea. Radiation can also irritate your bladder. This can cause you to need to urinate more often and may cause a burning feeling when you urinate. If you are a woman, your ability to have or enjoy sexual intercourse may also be affected, because radiation may cause changes to the cells lining the vagina (mucosa), making intercourse difficult or painful. Over time, some men have difficulty having an erection if the nerves that control erection are affected by radiation therapy.
The skin in the treated area may become red, dry, tender, and itchy. Toward the end of treatment, the skin may become moist and "weepy." These effects are temporary, and the area will gradually heal when treatment is completed. Expose the area to air as much as possible to help the skin heal. Some types of clothing may rub the skin and cause irritation, so you may want to wear loose-fitting cotton clothes.
Good skin care is important during radiation therapy, and you should check with your health professional before using any deodorants, lotions, or creams on the treated area. The effects of radiation therapy on the skin are temporary, and the area gradually heals once treatment is over. You may notice a slight change in the color of the skin.
Most of these side effects go away when treatment is over, but some may not.
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