Side effects of Irradiation

It is only human to be concerned about the side effects of irradiation, especially as there are so many misconceptions about irradiation.

However, if you understand what may or may not happen, you can avoid unnecessary anxiety and fear.

The aim of the following information is to give you peace of mind.

Nausea and Vomitting

Only patients who receive irradiation over their abdominal organs sometimes experience nausea and vomiting. If you find that this is a problem, please ask your oncologist for a prescription for medication.

If the symptoms continue in spite of the medication, inform your oncologist immediately so that other medication may be prescribed.

It is extremely important that you take your medication as prescribed to prevent nausea, and not only when you feel nauseous.

It is also important that you continue to eat enough. If you start losing weight or find that you are no longer eating regularly, consult the dietician immediately.


Patients who receive irradiation over the lower abdominal area may suffer from diarrhoea, constipation, a burning sensation when urinating and / or piles.

Please ask for medication immediately if you suffer from any of the above.

It is also important to ask the radiotherapists whether your bladder should be full or empty during irradiation.

Mouth & Throat problems

Patients receiving irradiation over the throat area will start suffering from a sore throat after about ten treatments. Gargling with a solution of half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed with half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of lukewarm water will help. There will also be dryness of the mouth due to the irradiation affecting the salivary glands. This condition may be permanent. You may experience a temporary loss of speech, but speech will be regained in the course of time. You might also find that you develop a double chin after irradiation.

Men who are receiving irradiation over the face must not shave the treatment area, as it would cause skin irritation.

It is important that you drink a lot of fluids.

If you experience problems with your diet due to a sore throat or mouth, please consult the dietician.


If you have three or four loose stools a day, you should drink clear fluids (soup, soft drinks, tea and ± two litres of water per day). Also consult your general practitioner or oncologist immediately.

You must prevent your body from dehydrating.

Eat a lot of bananas, carrots (cooked) and grated apple (without the skin).

The dietician can compile a special diet for you to help combat the diarrhoea. It may also be advisable to take one or more nutritional supplements. These supplements can be prescribed by the dietician. You may also take medication for the diarrhoea. Please ask the nursing staff to assist you with this.

Skin reactions

CAUTION: Please do not use any ointment, powder or deodorant spray on the irradiation area. These will make any skin irritations worse. You may use a roll-on deodorant (like Dove). If the skin feels tender, you could use Aqueous water-soluble cream. If necessary your doctor will prescribe a special cream.

Do not expose the treatment area to direct sunlight. Wear a hat and suitable clothes in the sun. If a skin reaction is to be expected, the oncologist or radiotherapist will tell you. A reddening of the skin will become visible after about fifteen treatments.

Hair Loss (Alopecia)

Your hair will only fall out if you receive irradiation over the scalp. Irradiation of other parts of the body will not cause hair loss on the head.

The hair will only start falling out after about fifteen treatments, and in most cases will start growing again after about three months.

White blood cells

White blood cells are the body's protective mechanism against infections.

The white blood cell count of patients receiving irradiation over large areas of bone may decrease, therefore regular blood counts will be taken if you are such a patient.

When smaller areas of the body are irradiated, the loss of white blood cells is so small that regular blood counts are not necessary.

Dr Alberts, Bouwer & Jordaan Inc.

The Alberts, Bouwer & Jordaan practices and clinics are spread across Gauteng and the North West Province and offer the most advanced treatment methods available worldwide. We pride ourselves in our quality and the standard of care given by our doctors, nurses and support staff who treat all our patients with professionalism, compassion and understanding, providing the most effective treatments and therapy.

After hours contact details:

Radiotel: +27 (0)12 333-6000

(for all practices except Klerksdorp)

PO Box 12555, Hatfield, 0028

Download documents:

Manual in terms of section 51 PAIA ACT [1]
Manual in terms of section 51 PAIA ABJ [2]