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Safe use of controlled doses of radiation to treat disease, especially cancer.  Usually given by pointing an X-ray machine at the part of the body to be treated, but can also be given by drinking liquid, having an injection or having a radioactive implant put into your body (brachytherapy).

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Northern Centre for Cancer Care

Radiotherapy to the abdomen

IntroductionShow [+]Hide [-]

Your oncologist has advised a course of radiotherapy to your abdomen.

This information has been written to help answer some of the questions you may have about the side effects of radiotherapy.

We hope you will find this helpful but if you have any further questions relating to your treatment, please do not hesitate to ask your radiographer, your nurse specialist or your oncologist at the Northern Centre for Cancer Treatment (NCCT).

Possible short term (early) side effectsShow [+]Hide [-]

Early side effects are temporary and affect most patients. Sometimes side effects can last for several weeks. However they usually settle within three to four months.

Effects on the skin

Towards the end of treatment some patients may experience changes in the skin over the area that has been treated. The skin may:

  • feel tight and uncomfortable
  • become pink or red
  • become dry and flaky
  • itch

Your skin reaction may be worse and develop earlier if you are also having chemotherapy.

Your skin will be monitored by your radiographers during radiotherapy and you will be given advice on skincare. You will also be seen once a week in a radiotherapy clinic by your oncologist, the nurse specialist or specialist radiographer who will examine your skin and advise on any creams if necessary.

Skin care – what can I do to help?

We recommend that you take special care of your skin during and up to six weeks after your radiotherapy as the reaction may continue after treatment has finished.

  • Keep the area cool. Wear loose, preferably cotton clothing that does not rub the skin and will allow air to circulate.
  • Do not expose the treated area to the sun.
  • Whilst in the sun the treated area should be covered completely or a high protective factor sun cream (25 or above) should be applied. Do not use a sunbed as this could make the reaction worse.
  • Do not soak the area in the bath or under a long hot shower. You may wash your skin in the treated area using a simple, unperfumed soap applied gently with your hands and rinsed well with warm water. Avoid using flannels or sponges. Pat the area dry with a soft towel or let the skin dry naturally.
  • Do not use talcum powder, bubble baths, bath salts, shower gels or body lotions on the treated area as they tend to be highly perfumed and can dry or irritate the skin. You may be given a moisturising cream to soothe the skin, from the radiographers or nurses, or your oncologist may prescribe a cream if needed.

Nausea (feeling sick)

Treatment to your abdomen may make you feel sick. If this is going to happen it usually occurs a few hours after treatment. Please let the radiographer, nurse or oncologist know if this happens so that they can advise or arrange the appropriate medication to help.

You may not feel much like eating, but it is important to try.

Often nausea can be relieved by drinking fizzy drinks (especially tonic water), by eating little and often, and sticking to dry, non-fatty foods.

Have your meals prepared for you, if possible.

Vomiting (being sick)

Vomiting may occur with or without experiencing nausea. Please let the radiographer, nurse or oncologist know if this happens so that they can advise or arrange the appropriate medication to help.

Effects on the bowel

You may have more frequent bowel movements during your radiotherapy and for several weeks afterwards. You will normally be prescribed some medication to make the bowel more regular.

Tiredness or Fatigue

Radiotherapy can sometimes make you feel very tired especially towards the end of your course of treatment and for a number of weeks after. It may be a while before you feel able to do some of your usual activities.

You should rest as much as you need to although gentle exercise may help. Fatigue is something nearly everyone with cancer feels. It affects people differently and it is important to tell the health care team if you are feeling more tired than usual. There are some physical causes, such as anaemia that are readily treatable.

Please ask for a booklet on "Fatigue" at the Information Centre in NCCT which will give you tips to help with this.

Your progress

You will be seen by a member of your specialist team once a week during your treatment. This will be an opportunity to discuss any concerns or problems you may have.

Please tell your treatment radiographers if you have any problems between appointments.

Possible long- term or permanent effects of treatmentShow [+]Hide [-]

The likelihood of these effects is small and varies from person to person.

Your oncologist will have discussed these effects at the time of your consent to treatment.

Your emotions

It is important to make time for yourself. Emotions associated with the reactions to a diagnosis of cancer may come to the surface at various stages during your treatment.

Don’t worry if you feel low, this is normal. If you need to talk to someone, please ask, we are here to help. We have a wide range of support  services within the department, such as the Palliative Care Team, dietician and social worker.

A Clinical Psychology service is also available at NCCT on referral from your oncologist.


Having radiotherapy to your abdomen will have no long-term effect on your sex life. However when you are tired or have worries about your cancer, your sex drive can be affected. This is personal to each individual and may be an aspect of your life about which you have concerns. You may have questions you wish to ask. Please talk to your radiographer, oncologist or the nurse specialist if you would like to talk about these issues confidentially.

There is more information available on this subject in the Information Centre at NCCT.


It is very important that women are not and do not become pregnant whilst undergoing radiotherapy. Please inform a member of staff immediately if you think you may be pregnant. You will be asked (if appropriate) to confirm that you are not pregnant before starting treatment.

After your treatmentShow [+]Hide [-]

The side effects of radiotherapy can continue for several weeks after treatment has finished.

Continue with your skincare routine until any changes return to normal. On your last treatment you will be given a discharge letter with a copy for your GP summarising any side effects you may have and any creams or medication you have been prescribed at NCCT.

You will be sent a follow up appointment to see your specialist team usually between four to six weeks after finishing treatment.
If you are worried about your side effects after your treatment has finished, please contact your GP or your specialist cancer nurse at your referring hospital for further advice.

Useful contact telephone numbers:

Northern Centre for Cancer Treatment Information Centre
Telephone: 0191 256 3596 or 0191 256 3597
Monday to Friday from 10.00am to 4.00pm

Macmillan Cancer Relief
Telephone: 020 7840 7840
Macmillan Cancer Relief

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