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What are the Side Effects of Bone Cancer Treatments?

Hair loss is common side-effect of chemotherapy

High-energy rays (heat waves) are used to kill cancerous cells in radiation therapy which is used to treat bone cancer. The goal is to destroy tumour cells without hurting too many healthy cells but healthy cells in the treatment area can also be damaged as the emission of energy can’t be pointed minutely. Continued from the previous post (possibile side-effects of different cancer treatment)

Potential Side-effects of Radiation Therapy

Different cells and tissues in the body tolerate radiation differently. This treatment can cause side effects, but they’re different for everyone. It depends on the type of radiation a patient gets, how much the part of the body that gets treatment, and overall health of a person. Side effects of radiation therapy will depend mainly on the size of the area being treated, specific area being treated, total dose and treatment schedule.

There’s no way to predict how radiation will affect the patient. But the possibility of having side effects from your treatment always remains mild to strong and early or later which can’t be predicted.

a) Skin Reactions

Skin reactions occur because external beam radiation travels through the skin to reach the area being targeted for treatment. The skin in the radiated area may become red, dry or change colour (become darker or tanned looking). Some skin changes, like skin darkening or scarring, can last a long time or be permanent. Some people do not experience any skin reactions with radiation therapy.

b) Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of radiation therapy. During radiation therapy, the body uses more energy to heal itself, so fatigue will not always be relieved by rest. Fatigue usually occurs during or after the second week of radiation treatment. Symptoms of fatigue may increase or become more severe over the course of treatment.

c) Bone Marrow Suppression

Bone marrow suppression is a condition in which one or more of the main types of blood cells are decreased. Decreases in blood cell levels are rarely severe enough to cause problems. When there is a break from treatment for a few days, blood cell counts usually recover.

d) Hair Loss

Hair loss (alopecia) only occurs in the area treated with radiation therapy. Thinning or loss of hair can occur in any area where radiation is directed. The extent of hair loss and regrowth varies from person to person and depends on the dose of radiation.

e) Fibrosis

The tissue in the treatment area can become toughened and scar-like (called fibrosis). Fibrosis occurs more often when radiation therapy is given after surgery. Fibrosis can cause discomfort and permanently limit the range of motion in a limb. Physical therapy, including a stretching program, during treatment may reduce fibrosis.

f) Edema

Edema is swelling caused by a build-up of fluid in the body. It can develop because of damage to the tissues in the area treated with radiation. It is more often associated with radiation therapy to lower limbs than to upper limbs. Edema occurs more often when radiation therapy is given after surgery. Lymphedema can be a long-term problem after radiation therapy.

g) Contracture

Muscles, tendons and ligaments can sometimes stiffen or shrink after radiation therapy. This can cause a permanent tightening of the joint (contracture) so that it cannot move through its normal range of motion. A contracture is common when radiation is given to a joint. Physical therapy during treatment will help to increase flexibility and maintain function of the limbs. Joints are spared from direct radiation whenever possible.

h) Fracture

Sometimes bone within the radiation treatment area can become fragile and may break (fracture) years after treatment. Bone fractures are more likely to occur when higher doses of radiation are given.

i) Second Cancer

A very small number of people develop a second cancer caused by radiation therapy. People who receive both chemotherapy and radiation therapy have the highest risk of developing a second cancer. The benefit of treating a person’s cancer usually far outweighs the risk of developing a second cancer from radiation therapy.

A second cancer can develop a few years after radiation treatment, but most do not occur for 10–20 years or more after treatment.

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