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 Side Effects and Complications from Radiation Therapy

patient.gif (15178 bytes) Some good sources of information about side effects:
The side effects of radiation depend on a number of different factors:
  • the area treated (brain - loss of hair, abdomen - diarrhea, etc. )
  • the dose of radiation (the higher the dose, the more likely side effects)
  • the size of the field or area treated (the larger the area, the more likely side effects)
  • other treatments (chemotherapy may increase the sensitivity to radiation, see section on side effects from chemotherapy here.)
  • patient condition (malnourished or weakened patients will have more problems)
  • individual sensitivity (considerable variation among patients)
  • see RTOG short term and long term side effects
  • Preferred toxicity scale is National Cancer Institute Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events (CTCAE) version 3 (go here) and the for the actual scale go here .
  • see side effect list from Bayfront -St. Anthony's
  • some studies suggest Trental may be helpful in the treatment and prevention of radiation complications
  • hyperbaric oxygen may be useful (go here and here) in the treatment of radiation complications
  • see the NCCN patient guidelines on pain, nausea/vomiting, distress, hospice care, and see the ASCO Site

General Characteristics of the CTCAE Grading (Severity) Scale and specific by site is here

CTCAE v3.0 grading is by definition a 5-point scale generally corresponding to mild, moderate, severe, life-threatening and death.




No Adverse Event (absent) or within normal limits


Mild Adverse Event (minor; no specific medical intervention; asymptomatic laboratory findings only, radiographic findings only; marginal clinical relevance)


Moderate Adverse Event (minimal intervention; local intervention; noninvasive intervention [packing, cautery])


Severe and undesirable Adverse Event (significant symptoms requiring hospitalization or invasive intervention; transfusion; elective interventional radiological procedure; therapeutic endoscopy or operation)


Life-threatening or disabling Adverse Event (complicated by acute, life-threatening metabolic or cardiovascular complications such as circulatory failure, hemorrhage, sepsis. Life-threatening physiologic consequences; need for intensive care or emergent invasive procedure; emergent interventional radiological procedure, therapeutic endoscopy or operation)


Death related to Adverse Event