Side effects of radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy

Radiotherapy and chemoradiation (or chemoradiotherapy) for pancreatic cancer affects people in different ways. Here people talk about what it was like for them.
Some people have very few side effects while others may experience effects such as:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tiredness
  • Skin reactions
Side effects came over time for people we spoke to who had radiotherapy. Elaine had surgery followed by radiotherapy. She felt very tired towards the end of the course of radiotherapy. She also felt a bit sick but decided not to take antiemetics (anti-sickness pills).
The other people we spoke to all had chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy. Some of the side effects they had could have been from either treatment. Richard felt tired and sick, which he thought was from the radiotherapy but these side effects could have been partly due to chemotherapy.

Richard had radiotherapy for nearly six weeks. He had various side effects, particularly nausea…

Age at interview 59

Gender Male

Age at diagnosis 58

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Doctors may give antiemetic drugs to stop sickness. Some people tried several different antiemetic drugs until they found one that worked for them. Peter took a prescribed medicine but decided that over-the-counter medicines worked better for him. He also had diarrhoea.
Alison had chemoradiotherapy. She developed gastritis (inflamed stomach lining) and an inflamed oesophagus (food pipe). Her doctor gave her some medicine to treat the symptoms. Alison said that the gastritis sometimes comes back, particularly after she eats spicy food.

Alison had radiotherapy every day for six weeks, except for weekends. She became extremely tired…

Age at interview 44

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 41

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Some people have a skin reaction within the radiotherapy area. Michael’s skin became a bit red but he said it wasn’t serious. Anthony’s wife Martine got a rash after radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer. Radiotherapy skin reactions are normal and are most common at the end of treatment.

Most side effects of radiotherapy disappear gradually after the course of treatment is over. For some people, however, they continue for weeks or even longer. Some side effects, e.g. scarring around the bowel or bowel ulceration, can appear months or years after radiotherapy.