Tips for Patients

Tips for Patients

Tips to help patients with lung cancer and their family members to manage the treatment process

Care After Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is a common treatment for lung cancer. The treatment is painless. However, there are some side effects which are associated with radiation therapy, and they are different for each person. Some people have many side effects; others have hardly any.9


- The side effects of radiation therapy for lung cancer usually come on slowly. They may last for a few weeks after treatment has ended. Once the treatment is over, the side effects will gradually get better.10 A small number of people have long term side effects, which develop up to 2 years after treatment has finished.10


- Some of common side effects include:10,11

  • Fatigue (tiredness) 
  • Skin reaction
  • Sore throat and trouble swallowing
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

- Fatigue: This treatment-related fatigue might feel like an overall lack of energy and might persist for many weeks or even months.12 Below are a few tips to help combat fatigue:

  • Listen to the body, rest as much as possible, and do not do too much.13
  • Get plenty of sleep, trying to sleep at least 8 hours each night.
  • Most people feel better when they get some exercise each day. Go for a 15- to 30-minute walk or do stretches. Talk with a doctor or healthcare professional about how much exercise a person can do while having radiation therapy.9
  • Ask for and accept help at home or in the workplace.12

- Skin reaction: Most people develop a skin reaction in the area being treated, ranging from mild redness to blistering and peeling.11,13 The reaction begins a few weeks after the beginning of a radiation therapy course, and will usually resolves within a few weeks of finishing therapy.Below are a few advice for taking care of skin reaction:12

  • The area should be washed gently with simple non-perfumed soap, and patted dry with a soft clean towel. Perfumed soaps might make the reaction worse.
  • Use lukewarm water to wash with. Do not scrub at the area.
  • Do not scratch the area. Avoid exposure to extreme temperatures, such as ice packs and hot water bottles
  • Do not swim in chlorinated water during radiotherapy.

- Sore throat and trouble swallowing: This may happen if the area being treated is close to the throat or oesophagus. Symptoms usually occur 2 to 3 weeks into therapy and subside a few weeks after completing treatments.9 Below are a few tips to help manage the problem:12

  • Take soft diet until treatment is over.
  • Avoid very hot or very cold drinks, salty and spicy foods.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco. 

- Cough: Patients can develop a cough which maybe dry and tickly or even with blood.13 It may be relieved with sipping a drink or taking cough medicine. The cough should pass when the treatment is over. However, if cough persists and the sputum changes colour, becomes thicker or patients have a fever, please consult a doctor. It may be a sign of infection.13 


- Chest pain: Patients may develop chest pain, often within a few weeks of starting the treatment.12 It should go away by itself but remember to tell doctors just in case the chest pain is caused by something else.


- Nausea and vomiting: Radiation therapy can cause nausea, vomiting, or both. These symptoms may occur 30 minutes to many hours after a radiation therapy session ends.9 The best way to keep from vomiting is to prevent nausea. One way to do this is by having bland, easy-to-digest foods and drinks that do not upset the stomach. Besides, try to relax (such as reading a book or listening to music) before each radiation therapy treatment may help a patient feel less nausea.9






9. NCI. Radiation Therapy and You. NIH Publication No. 12-7157. Printed May 2012. Updated 2016 version available at: Accessed: 6 May 2019.

10. CRUK. Lung Cancer Radiotherapy Side Effects. Available at: Accessed: 6 May 2019.

11. ACS. Radiation Therapy for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Available at: Accessed: 6 May 2019.

12. NCCP. Radiotherapy Treatment for Lung Cancer – A Guide for Patients. Available at: Accessed: 6 May 2019.

13. OUH. Radiotherapy to the Lung: Information for Patients. Available at: Accessed: 6 May 2019.