Frequently Asked Questions from Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy

How can I expect to feel during treatment and in the weeks following radiation therapy?


During treatment, most women gradually develop fatigue and breast symptoms. This includes a skin reaction in the area being treated that looks and feels like sunburn. There also may be some swelling and discomfort of the breast area. These symptoms usually are most noticeable during the end of radiation and last for a week or two after the last radiation treatment. They improve fairly quickly after that time.


Can I drive myself to and from treatment?




Will I be able to continue my normal activities? Will I be able to work during radiation therapy treatments?


Many women are able to continue working and doing most of their normal activities during radiation. This depends a lot on the type of work/activities you do and the amount of fatigue and breast symptoms you have. Please ask your radiation doctor any questions that you may have about this.


Do I need a special diet during or after my treatment?


We encourage women to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet during and after treatment.


Is it safe to take vitamins during treatment?


You many continue to take a regular multivitamin during treatment. We recommend avoiding antioxidant supplements during radiation (vitamin C, vitamin E, etc.). You do not have to avoid eating foods that contain antioxidants.


Can I exercise?


Yes. As treatments progress, you may have difficulty performing some types of vigorous exercise due to fatigue and breast soreness. You also may want to avoid exercising in a swimming pool, if this irritates your skin.


Can I have sex?


Yes. Radiation therapy to the breast does not directly affect the vagina or your ability to have sex. Many women struggle with intimacy after being diagnosed with cancer. This can occur for many reasons. Please ask one of your doctors any questions that you may have about this.


Can I smoke or drink alcohol?


Quitting smoking is a hard thing to do. Please tell your radiation doctor or primary care provider if you would like help quitting. Women who smoke cigarettes during radiation may have a worse skin reaction during treatment. Alcohol in moderation (no more than one drink per day) will not affect your treatment.


Can I go out in the sun?


You may go out in the sun, but please protect the area that receives radiation during treatment and for a few months after treatment. This can be done by covering the treatment area with clothing and/or using a good sunscreen (SPF 30). The rest of your skin will not be affected.


How can I care for my skin to minimize the effects of radiation? What types of lotions or soaps can I use?


Your radiation oncologist and radiotherapy nurse will explain skin care to you when your treatment starts. We also will check with you often during treatment, to make specific recommendations for your skin care. In general, you may continue to use your normal deodorant during breast radiation. Gently wash the area being treated with a mild soap and pat your skin dry with a soft, clean towel. Mild soaps include Aveeno, Dove, Neutrogena and Cetaphil. When radiation starts, choose a mild, unscented moisturizer and apply it to the treated area one or two times each day. Please do not apply moisturizer one to two hours before your treatment time. This allows the lotion to be absorbed into your skin before your treatment. There are many lotions that can be used during breast radiation. Examples include Aquaphor, Eucerin, Lubriderm, Aveeno, calendula cream, Neutrogena and VaniCream.


Will treatment affect my ability to have children?


Radiation therapy to the breast does not affect fertility.


Does radiation increase my risk of getting another type of cancer down the road?


There is a tiny risk (less than one percent) that radiation to the breast may cause another type of cancer to develop years later. This risk is limited to the breast region; other parts of the body are not affected. Please ask your radiation oncologist if you have questions about your risk for developing cancer after treatment.