Side effects of brain tumour radiotherapy | Cancer Research UK
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Side effects of brain tumour radiotherapy

Men and women discussing brain tumours

This page tells you about the side effects you may have during brain tumour radiotherapy and for a few weeks after treatment. There is separate information about delayed or long term side effects which may happen from a few weeks to several months after treatment. 

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A quick guide to what's on this page

You may have some side effects during brain tumour radiotherapy and for a few weeks after treatment. These may include

Hair loss

You may have hair loss in the area of the head being treated. You do not lose all your hair as you do with some cancer drug treatments.

Sickness

You may feel sick when having radiotherapy to the brain. This does not happen to everyone. Your doctor or nurse can give you anti sickness tablets or steroids to help.

Tiredness

You are likely to feel more and more tired as your course of radiotherapy goes on. The tiredness usually goes on for a few weeks after the treatment has finished. It gradually improves. A rarer complication is somnolence syndrome, which is extreme tiredness, where you sleep nearly all the time. It starts 4 to 6 weeks after treatment ends and lasts a few weeks.

Worsening of brain tumour symptoms

With radiotherapy to the brain, symptoms can sometimes get worse before they get better because radiotherapy can cause swelling. You have steroids to try and prevent this. The symptoms get better with time.

Stereotactic radiotherapy

Stereotactic radiotherapy targets the tumour more precisely. It tends to have fewer or milder side effects than regular radiotherapy to the brain.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating brain tumours section.

 

 

Hair loss

Hair loss only happens in the area of the head that is being treated. You do not lose all your hair, as you do with chemotherapy. You usually only lose patches where the radiation beams entered and left your skull.

 

Sickness

You may feel sick during a course of radiotherapy treatment to the brain. This doesn't happen to everyone. But if it troubles you, your doctor or nurse can give you anti sickness tablets to take each day, before your treatment or you may have steroids.

 

Tiredness

Tiredness is a common symptom with any radiotherapy treatment. With a course of treatment for a brain tumour, you are likely to feel more and more tired as the course goes on. Sometimes, people sleep practically all day during the final week of their treatment.

Usually the tiredness goes on for a few weeks after the treatment has finished. It gradually improves. A rarer complication is somnolence syndrome. This is very extreme tiredness, where after treatment you sleep nearly all the time. Somnolence syndrome usually starts 4 to 6 weeks after treatment has finished. Just when you think you are getting over your treatment, this can be a blow. But it also passes in time.

To reduce somnolence syndrome, your doctor may increase the dose of your steroids for a short time.

 

Worsening of your brain tumour symptoms

Radiotherapy for brain tumours can sometimes make symptoms worse before they get better. This is because the treatment can cause swelling in the treatment area. The swelling increases the pressure in the head and makes the symptoms get worse. Your doctor will give you steroids to try to prevent this but it gets better in time.

 

Side effects of stereotactic radiotherapy

Stereotactic radiotherapy and radiosurgery target the radiotherapy very precisely at the brain tumour. So a much smaller area of healthy brain tissue is exposed to radiation. This means that the treatment tends to have fewer or milder side effects, than regular radiotherapy to the brain.

 

More information

Find out about

Side effects of brain tumour radiotherapy

Steroid medication

Radiosurgery

Stereotactic radiotherapy

Coping emotionally with cancer

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Updated: 22 October 2015