Breast radiotherapy – side effects
All patients experience a different range and severity of side effects during and after treatment. Most patients suffer relatively minor side effects from breast radiotherapy.
Short term (‘early’) side effects
These are common, occur during or shortly after treatment, and are temporary (as the normal tissues heal after radiation exposure).
Skin reactions often get worse for a short time after the treatment is finished.
A few patients suffer peeling or blistering of the skin (most commonly underneath the breast and / or in skin creases in the lower neck). If this happens, it may take two to four weeks to heal; please talk to your oncologist or radiographers if this happens.
The redness often turns darker over a period of weeks, but eventually fades back to a natural skin colour.
Sometimes the tiredness briefly gets worse after treatment finishes.
Severe fatigue is unusual and often more common in patients who’ve also received chemotherapy.
Very rarely, patients experience a short-lived sensation of breathlessness.
Long term (‘late’) side effects
Long term side effects are less common but can appear months or years after treatment. The benefits of radiotherapy almost always outweigh the small likelihood of long term side effects.
If you develop lymphoedema you should contact your breast care nurse who will ensure you get any specialist help you need to manage the condition so that it doesn’t interfere with your everyday life.
Modern radiotherapy, including the use of DIBH, minimises the radiation dose to the heart so long term cardiac effects are now extremely rare.
A full description and patient information film is available here.