Side effects of radiotherapy for oesophageal cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Side effects of radiotherapy for oesophageal cancer

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This page is about the side effects of radiotherapy for cancer of the oesophagus (food pipe). You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Side effects of external radiotherapy

The side effects of radiotherapy depend on which part of the body is being treated. For oesophageal cancer, you have treatment to the middle of your chest. The side effects of treatment include a dry sore throat that makes swallowing difficult, feeling or being sick, increasing tiredness and a reddening of the skin and loss of body hair in the treatment area.

Side effects usually come on gradually throughout your course of treatment. So they are likely to be worse by the end of your course. They can continue to get worse for about 1 or 2 weeks after a course of intensive radiotherapy. Over the following few weeks, your side effects will gradually improve.

Side effects of internal radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy for oesophageal cancer can cause soreness when swallowing. Occasionally, ulcers can develop inside your food pipe. Your doctor will give you painkillers to ease the soreness. 

Both types of radiotherapy can cause longer term side effects. Your oesophagus may become less stretchy, which can make it difficult to swallow. Your doctor can relieve this with a small operation to stretch the oesophagus slightly.
 

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Side effects of external radiotherapy

The side effects of radiotherapy depend on which part of the body is being treated. For cancer of the oesophagus, you have treatment to the middle of your chest. The side effects of treatment include

  • Short term soreness when swallowing
  • A dry sore throat that makes swallowing difficult
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Increasing tiredness
  • Reddening of the skin in the treatment area
  • Loss of any body hair in the treatment area

Side effects usually come on gradually throughout your course of treatment. So they are likely to be worse by the end of your course. And they can continue to get worse for about 1 or 2 weeks after a course of intensive radiotherapy. Over the following few weeks, your side effects will gradually improve.

You will probably only be able to eat a liquid or very soft diet towards the end of several weeks of radiotherapy.

If necessary you can have an anti sickness drug before your treatment, to stop the radiotherapy making you feel sick.

Radiotherapy can cause tiredness for many people. This increases as the treatment course goes on. The tiredness generally wears off over the few weeks or months following your treatment.

Your skin in the treatment area may become red, as if it was slightly sunburned. Some people have only a slight reaction. Others have more problems with it. Generally, this side effect happens less severely than it used to because of the radiotherapy machines we now use. If you do get sore skin, don't put anything on it. Check with your radiographer or nurse and see what they recommend.

 

Side effects from radiotherapy to treat symptoms

If you are having treatment for advanced oesophageal cancer, you might only have a few treatments. So you may not have any side effects from your radiotherapy. 

Your doctor gives you the treatment to make you feel better. So it is important that the treatment itself does not make you feel worse.

 

Side effects of internal radiotherapy

Like all radiotherapy treatment, internal radiotherapy does have side effects. The treatment causes soreness when swallowing. Occasionally, ulcers can develop inside your food pipe. Your doctor gives you painkillers to ease the soreness. You have to have a liquid or very soft diet while your throat is sore.

 

Long term side effects

Both internal and external radiotherapy can cause longer term side effects. 

The treatment can cause your oesophagus to become less stretchy. This is called an oesophageal stricture. It can make it difficult for you to swallow. Your doctor can relieve this with a small operation to stretch the oesophagus slightly. This is called dilatation. You usually have it done via a tube down your throat (endoscopy) while you are under sedation.

 

For more information

Find out about

External radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy 

Living with oesophageal cancer

Side effects of radiotherapy

Managing a soft diet

For general information and support (H3)

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Updated: 22 April 2014