Decorative image

Long term side effects of radiotherapy

Your doctor tries to make sure you have as few side effects as possible. But some people are more sensitive than others to radiation.

Long term side effects are more likely with higher doses of radiation. You are unlikely to have these with a short course of radiotherapy to help with your symptoms. Only some people treated have long term effects. The effects start between a few months and a couple of years after your course of treatment.

Radiotherapy to the penis may cause the following:

Tiredness after radiotherapy might carry on for some months. You might also feel weak and lack energy. Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise.

Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.

Radiotherapy to the penis can make the urethra narrower, which can make passing urine difficult and sometimes impossible. Doctors call this a stricture. It happens if the tissue inside the penis becomes thicker (fibrosis). Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any difficulty in passing urine. You might need to have your urethra stretched (dilated). Or you may have surgery to widen the urethra.

Radiotherapy can sometimes affect the blood flow to the treated area. This can cause problems in keeping the tissue healthy. The tissue may become starved of oxygen and nutrients. If you notice any changes in the colour of your skin where you had treatment, tell your doctor straight away.

Most men are able to have sex after they've had radiotherapy. Getting an erection may be more difficult if you have:

  • thickening of the skin on the penis
  • problems with blood flow to the penis

Tell your doctor if you have any problems.

Some men get swelling in one or both legs after radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the groin and pelvis. This swelling is called lymphoedema (lim-fo-dee-ma).

Last reviewed: 
06 Dec 2018
  • Penile carcinoma: ESMO clinical practice guidelines

    H. Van Poppel, N. A. Watkin, S. Osanto, L. Moonen, A. Horwich, V. Kataja

    Annals of Oncology 2013; 24 (Suppl 6): vi115-vi124

  • Principles and practice of oncology (8th edition)

    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg

    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2008

Information and help