6 side effects of radiation therapy to the pelvis in women

Radiation therapy to the pelvis is commonly used
to treat women with lower gastrointestinal tract cancers, as well as
gynecologic cancers, such as cervical cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer.

Because the radiation therapy is administered to the pelvis, though,
there are certain side effects that are common among these patients.

Here are six effects to watch for if you’re receiving radiation to
the pelvis. Keep in mind that the specific side effects that you experience will depend on
whether you receive chemotherapy, the location and dosage of the
radiation, and the number of treatments.

1. Diarrhea

Many patients develop diarrhea during radiation therapy. To manage
diarrhea, we recommend a low-fiber diet. If you’re an MD Anderson patient, ask your care team for a
referral to one of our dietitians. He or she will give you specific
guidelines to follow during treatment.

We may also recommend medications such as Imodium and or Lomotil,
but always check with your doctor before taking any medications.

If you develop pain in the anal region, we recommend sitz baths. You
can also try using very gentle baby wipes rather than toilet paper
after a bowel movement.

2. Bladder and vaginal irritation

The inside lining of the bladder sometimes becomes irritated during
radiation. Let your doctor know if you develop bladder symptoms. That
way, he or she can prescribe additional tests and/or medication as needed.

Your vagina and/or external genital area may become irritated during
treatment. Sitz baths can provide relief.

Your doctor can also prescribe certain moisturizers, ointments and
lotions that you can apply to your skin after treatment and before you
go to bed. Just be sure to speak with your doctor to identify the best
moisturizer for you.

3. Yeast infections

Some patients may be more prone to develop yeast infections both
inside the vagina and in radiated skin. Your radiation oncologist will
evaluate your skin at least once a week and prescribe ointments and/or
oral medications if needed.

4. Infertility

Radiation can affect your fertility. If the ovaries are in the
radiation field, you may stop having your period and go into early menopause.

The good news is that there are things our doctors can do to preserve
the fertility of patients
who want to have children after
treatment. But it’s important to talk to your doctor about your
fertility concerns as early as possible after your diagnosis. The
earlier you have this conversation, the more options you’ll have. Learn
more about fertility and cancer
and the MD
Oncofertility Consult Service.

5. Sexual side effects

Radiation therapy can cause scar tissue to form in the vagina, which
can make sexual intercourse and/or a pelvic examination’s painful
after treatment. Your doctor may recommend you use a vaginal dilator
after treatment to reduce the risk of this. Vaginal dilators are often
recommended for patients with non-gynecologic cancers, such as anal
cancer, in close proximity to the vagina.

6. Fatigue

Fatigue is common during radiation therapy. It may
help to take small naps during the day and/or go to bed usual earlier
than usual. It also helps to ask family and friends for help with
routine chores. This way, you won’t have to use as much energy and can
have more time to rest.

Some patients find their fatigue improves with light exercise such
as walking. But check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

At MD Anderson, we are fortunate to have
a dedicated Fatigue Clinic that specializes in helping
patients with treatment-related fatigue. If you’re experiencing
fatigue, ask your MD Anderson doctor for a
referral to the Fatigue Clinic.

Discuss radiation therapy side effects with your doctor

Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about any side effects that
you experience during radiation therapy. We’re here to make your
experience as comfortable as possible, and we’re happy to address your
specific questions and concerns about anything unusual you’re
experiencing during your treatment.

Valerie Reed, M.D., is a radiation oncologist at
MD Anderson in The Woodlands.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-87-632-6789.