Services - Greater Regional Cancer Center
Back to Side Effects of Radiation
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy to the Brain
Radiation Therapy to the Brain
This handout gives a general description of side effects one may experience when receiving radiation therapy to the brain. It is important to remember that the type and severity of the side effect will vary greatly from patient to patient depending on the location being treated and dose of radiation being given. Ask your physician or nurse if you have any questions about this handout.
1. HAIR LOSS
Radiation therapy to the head will cause hair to fall out. The amount of hair loss will depend on how much of the head is being treated. The hair loss usually begins approximately two to four weeks after the radiation is started. Whether hair loss is temporary or permanent will depend on the dose of radiation given.
- You may continue to wash your hair during your course of radiation treatment. You should use a mild shampoo (baby shampoo). Other hair care products (hair spray, gels, mousses, permanents, etc.) may be irritating to the scalp.
- You may want to consider obtaining a wig. We can provide you with information on where to get one. Some patients prefer to get one before they actually need it, which allows you to pick a color and style that matches your own hair.
2. SCALP IRRITATION
The skin of the head may become irritated in the area being treated. It may become pink to reddish in color as the radiation treatments progress. It is common to experience itchiness of the scalp and the scalp may become dry and flaky.
- It is okay for you to wash your hair, but use a gentle shampoo as discussed above. Avoid using any irritating hair care or skin care products. If the scalp irritation becomes severe, your physician will recommend a skin cream.
- Dry your hair and scalp gently, but thoroughly after each wash.
- Avoid sun exposure to your scalp while you are undergoing treatment and for the first few months after treatment is completed. If you are to be outside for a prolonged period of time, cover your head with a cap, hat, scarf or wig.
3. EAR PROBLEMS
If the ears are in the radiation beam, you may experience irritation around the outside of our ears similar to the scalp irritation described above and inside the ear canals also. Radiation can increase the thickness of the waxy secretions in your ears.
- External ear care is the same as for the scalp described above. When outside for prolonged periods of time, keep your ears covered or use sunscreen.
- Do not use sharp items to attempt to remove wax from your ears. If wax build up becomes a problem, you can use a preparation like Deborx which is available over the counter at the drug store.
4. THROAT IRRITATION
Because the back of the throat is located near the brain, it often will receive some radiation during the course of your treatments. A mild sore throat may occur approximately two weeks after beginning treatment.
- If you develop a sore throat, gargle with a salt and soda water solution (one quart of water with 1 tsp. of table salt and 1 tsp. of baking soda).
- If you develop a sore throat, avoid foods that increase the irritation. Some patients find that rough foods such as popcorn and chips can be irritating.
- Cold or warm drinks may be soothing.
- Tylenol is also helpful in decreasing pain.
5. FATIGUE AND SLEEPINESS
Radiation therapy to the brain can cause generalized fatigue and increased sleepiness which may persist for several weeks after the treatments are completed.
- If you don't feel fatigued and want to continue with your regular activities, by all means do so. We will do all we can to make your radiation treatments as convenient for you as possible.
- If you feel tired, listen to your body and limit your activities as you see fit. You may need to get more sleep and consider taking a nap during the day.
Your physicians may prescribe a medication called Decadron or Dexamethasone to decrease the swelling of brain tissue that can be associated with some brain tumors. Decadron can increase fluid retention, increase appetite, and may make it difficult to sleep at times. Decadron can also cause an upset stomach. It also can interfere with glucose metabolism and make diabetes worse.
- Do not take Decadron on an empty stomach. Take Decadron with food. Antacids such as Mylanta or Maalox may help decrease upset stomach.
- If you find that you are having difficulty sleeping, adjust the time that you are taking your Decadron tablets so that you are not taking a dosage right before going to bed.
- Don't stop taking Decadron without your physician's orders. Decadron has to be tapered gradually, not stopped abruptly. Get your prescription refilled before you run out. Obtain a tapering schedule from your physician so that you know how long to continue taking the medication and how to taper it before stopping completely.
Continue to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals. There are no specific dietary restrictions because you are receiving radiation treatments. Eat the foods that you enjoy eating and whenever you feel hungry. Many cancer patients experience a poor appetite and have trouble maintaining weight. Some people notice food tastes different or becomes tasteless.
- Many small meals and snacks during the day may be more appealing to you than attempting three large meals.
- Experiment with different foods and find what tastes best to you. Vary the texture and color of your foods.
- Avoid foods that are unappetizing or irritate your throat.