How Radiation Treatment for Cancer Can Cause Secondary Cancers

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 2 April 2021

Cancer Caused by Radiation Therapy

Your doctor can recommend radiation treatment if you have cancer. Cancer cells are destroyed using high-energy beams.

This high dose of radiation can cause cancer called second primary cancer, which is extremely rare. It normally takes years for it to manifest after treatment.

How Radiation Therapy Can Cause Cancer

The strength of this treatment has the potential to damage your DNA as well as destroy healthy cells and tissues. It has the potential to cause cancer. However, since this is an uncommon occurrence, the many benefits of radiation therapy usually outweigh the risk.

How to Manage

If you're concerned about developing any form of cancer following radiation treatment, there are a few steps you may take to ease your fears. They are as follows:

Talk to your doctor. Everyone is affected differently by cancer. Inquire about the kinds of cancer you may be at risk for depending on your previous cancer and radiation treatment.

Schedule checkups. This will assist the doctor in checking for any complications from original cancer, as well as identifying signs of new cancers. Ask about how frequently you should visit.

Watch for new symptoms. If you have any new symptoms or potential cancer-related side effects, contact the doctor right away.

Other Side Effects

Early side effects of radiation therapy will occur shortly after exposure. These typically don't last long and are minor and readily treatable. They are as follows:

Fatigue. Radiation will leave you exhausted both emotionally and physically. Within a couple of weeks of treatment, this usually happens. This is due to the damage to your healthy cells. As you progress through treatment, the fatigue can become more intense.

Skin changes. In the region where you receive radiation therapy, the skin can appear red, tanned, or irritated. Later on, it can become itchy, flaky, and dry as a consequence of this. It may go away when the procedure is over, but the skin may remain more irritated or discoloured in that region in certain situations.

Low blood counts. Your blood count levels can change, but this is uncommon. These are the cells that assist in stopping bleeding and fighting infections. If this occurs, your doctor can recommend stopping therapy to allow your cell levels to return to normal.

Hair loss. During therapy, you may find that your hair is falling out or that it is becoming thinner. This could occur in the area where you receive treatment, such as the head or scalp. After the treatment, the hair can regrow again as normal.

You may experience other late side effects, such as second primary cancer, that require months or years to manifest. These modifications are based on the location of the radiation and the dose administered by your doctor. They'll strategically schedule the recovery to prevent serious long-term radiation side effects.


Referenced on 2.4.2021

  1. American Cancer Society: “Radiation Therapy Side Effects.”
  2. National Cancer Institute: “Late Side Effects of Cancer Treatment,” “Radiation.”
  3. Mayo Clinic: “Radiation therapy.”

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