How radiation therapy may affect your daily routine

Cancer treatment often requires patients to make changes to their
daily routines or lifestyle habits. But just how much do you need to change?

Below are my answers to some questions my patients ask about how
radiation therapy will impact their lives during treatment.

Can I work during treatment?

Many patients are able to work during their radiation treatment. Sometimes
patients work during the first few weeks of treatment but need to take
time off near the end due to side effects. It usually depends on the site of
the body being treated, the type of radiation, the dose of radiation
and if chemotherapy is also being administered.

Ask your doctor how your cancer treatment will impact your daily
life, including work. 

Can I have sex while undergoing radiation therapy? 

Yes, in many cases. It depends on the location of the radiation
treatment and your general overall health
. Cancer and cancer
treatment can affect your self-image, emotional state, physical
abilities and sexual interest

Keep in mind that you must use some type of birth control during
radiation if you’re of childbearing age. Generally, we avoid treating
patients with radiation therapy during pregnancy because the radiation
may post risks to the baby depending on the dose and area of the body
we’re treating.

Can I drink alcohol while receiving radiation therapy?

In general, we recommend you limit alcohol intake during cancer treatment of
any kind before, during and after cancer treatment. If you’re
undergoing radiation to your head, neck, throat, esophagus or stomach,
we ask that you abstain from alcohol since it can cause irritation and
be physically uncomfortable.  

If you are receiving radiation therapy to other parts of your body,
be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will likely recommend that
you drink only in moderation.

Can I spend time in the sun?

Yes, but cover the area that is being treated with radiation. Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and wear
special sun-protective clothing, including a hat, for others areas
exposed to direct sunlight.  

Can I dye my hair?

Generally, yes. Hair that is not being treated directly with
radiation can be dyed. But if you’re having radiation to the head and
neck area and experience hair loss, it’s best to wait a few months
after your hair has grown back. Like the effects of chemotherapy, hair
follicles and new hair are more delicate and prone to breakage.

Can I get a massage?

That depends on why you are getting radiation and what part of the body is being treated.  Talk to
your doctor about whether it’s OK to get a massage. And, if your
doctor says it’s OK, be sure to get a massage from someone who specializes in
working with cancer patients. MD
Anderson’s
Integrative Medicine Center provides massages
for eligible patients.

Can I take my prescription medication?

Yes, in most cases we recommend that you continue taking your
prescribed medications. But be sure to speak with your doctor about
all medications you’re taking to avoid unwanted drug interactions.

Can I exercise during radiation treatment?

In general, we encourage our patients to exercise as long as
it’s not a new rigorous routine and you feel up to it. Many patients
feel better and tolerate therapy if they maintain their routine
exercise program. Due to skin marks and skin reactions, however, we
may ask that you avoid swimming, as well as sitting in a sauna, during treatment.

Can I take vitamins and supplements?

It’s important to talk to your doctor about the vitamins,
nutritional and herbal supplements you’re taking. Some of these may
interfere with your treatment.

But typically, a single daily multivitamin during radiation therapy
is fine. However, you shouldn’t take more than the recommended daily allowance.

Pamela J. Schlembach is professor
of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson in
The Woodlands.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.