Radiation therapy is one type of treatment used for brain tumors. Although the radiation may destroy a tumor in the brain, it can also cause short and long-term side effects. The effect radiation has on the brain will depend on factors, such as the area of the brain radiated and the type and dose of radiation given. The age of the patient may also play a factor. Young children, who are still developing many skills, may have different effects than an adults. Most side effects don’t occur during the treatment itself. They start either a short time afterward or can be long-term effects, which develop months after treatment.
Short–Term Side Effects
Although not everyone will experience all side effects with radiation to the brain, there are some common side effects. According to the International RadioSurgery Association, fatigue is one of the most common side effects. Fatigue may become more severe as treatment goes on. Some people may experience nausea and vomiting during the course of radiation therapy to the brain. Hair loss in the area of the brain being radiated will also likely occur.
Some side effects may be similar to symptoms of a brain tumor and be difficult to distinguish between tumor effects and treatment effects. This occurs due to swelling in the brain from the radiation. Side effects may be trouble speaking, walking and vision changes.
Long-term Side Effects
Long-term effects from radiation therapy to the brain may include hearing loss, cognitive changes and difficulty learning. Some patients may have problems with memory, talking or motor skills. Depending on the area of the brain being radiated, damage to the hypothalamus can occur. This may affect the pituitary gland and a variety of side effects can develop, such as changes in sleeping, eating and personality.
Coping with both short and long term side effects from brain radiation therapy can be difficult. but there are some ways to ease problems. Nausea may be reduced by taking medication during or immediately after receiving the radiation. Various types of anti- emetics are available. The American Brain Tumor Association also recommends avoiding eating foods high in fat or very spicy, which can increase the changes of nausea. Drinking water or ginger ale, and sucking on ice chips may help. Combat fatigue by resting as much as possible, taking naps when you can and not over scheduling your days during treatment. Take advantage of the time of day you feel best to be active.
Steroids may be used to treat side effects due to swelling in the brain. Long-term side effects, such as learning difficulties and motor skill deficits may be helped with various types of therapy, such as speech, physical and occupational therapy.
International RadioSurgery Association
The American Brain Tumor Association