Side effects during/soon after treatment (Early or ‘acute’ side effects)
General side effects during treatment can include fatigue and irritation of the site being treated (e.g. skin reddening, dryness, discomfort, and hair loss). The acute reactions such as skin reaction, typically recovers about 4 weeks after you finish treatment. The tiredness is a common side effect, and may continue for months even after completing treatment.
Where radiation is used before surgery (neoadjuvant) to improve control and long term function, there can be a slight increased risk of post-operative wound complications in the short term.
Late or long-term side effects (Side effects well after treatment)
Whilst radiation therapy is used to help preserve function, long term side effects can include some stiffening (fibrosis) of the treated area. After radiation therapy, lymphoedema, or swelling can develop. This is permanent, but often manageable. Radiation therapy to a limb can cause increased risk of fracture in the bone of the treatment area. This is rare, and most patients who have radiation therapy will not have any bone problems.
Radiation therapy can cause a secondary malignancy, but this is a very uncommon long term-risk. The chance of developing a second cancer is so small that the benefit of radiation therapy will outweigh the risk.