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Brain radiotherapy and tiredness

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about tiredness during and after having radiotherapy to the brain. There is information about

 

Tiredness due to brain radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the brain can make you feel very tired. You may have radiotherapy for

  • A tumour that started in the brain (a primary brain tumour)
  • Cancer cells that have spread into the brain from another part of the body (secondary brain tumour)

You may not feel tired at the beginning of your treatment. The tiredness usually comes on gradually as you go through your treatment programme over a number of weeks. By the end of the course of treatment you may feel very tired.

The tiredness is a direct effect of the treatment. It is due to the body using up energy reserves to repair healthy cells damaged by the radiotherapy. If you are taking steroids these can also cause tiredness, particularly when you stop taking them. Travelling to the hospital for treatment can also make you tired. Unfortunately, the tiredness does not go away immediately when the treatment ends, but usually carries on for at least 6 weeks.

In a few people, the tiredness can become very severe a few weeks after treatment has finished and can be combined with drowsiness and feeling irritable. This is a rare side effect and is called somnolence syndrome. It does not need treatment as it gets better on its own over a few weeks.

 

Coping with tiredness

If you are tired, do feel free to rest or sleep when you need to. But it is likely to help if you can get some regular exercise. A daily walk would be good if you can manage it. There are some tips on coping with tiredness in this section.

 

Getting help and information

There is a whole section about brain tumours on this website. There are also books and booklets about brain tumours, some of which are free. The books are detailed on our brain tumour reading list. You can get some of them from brain tumour organisations

We have detailed information about external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy in this section. There is also detailed information about the side effects of radiotherapy.

There is information about other side effects of brain tumour radiotherapy, including

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of other people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 6 May 2014