For all Children Receiving Radiation Therapy
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 2, 2011
About Treatment Visits
At least once a week, you will be seen by a member of your Penn radiation oncology team. These visits are important because they give the team the chance to:
- Check your child's physical condition
- Check for any side effects Answer any questions you may have
- Coordinate future treatments.
If at any time you have a problem, do not wait until your next on treatment visit. Ask to talk to or see your nurse. Your nurse will review your problem and will contact your doctor if needed. You radiation oncologist may want to see you.
Managing Side Effects of Radiation Treatment
The side effects of radiation treatment depend on the areas of the body being treated. The radiation oncologist will review these with you at the time of consent. If you have any questions about symptoms speak with your nurse or doctor.
Call your doctor if your child has any of the following radiatio related symptoms:
- A temperature greater than 100.5 degrees F (38 degrees C) three times in 24 hours OR a temperature of 101.2 degrees F (38.5 degrees C) once in 24 hours
- Repeated episodes of diarrhea or watery stools in 24 hours
- Repeated episodes of nausea and vomiting in 24 hours
- Mouth sores
- Sore throat
For other situations or symptoms refer to the CHOP Oncology Home Management book.
The skin in the treatment area may look red, irritated, sunburned, or tanned. After a few weeks, skin may become dry or reddened. It is important on days that you are in for treatment to let the doctor or nurse know about any skin changes. They can suggest things you can do to relieve any problems.
Most skin reactions go away a few weeks after treatment is finished. For some, the skin in the treatment area stays darker than it was before.
It is important to treat the skin gently during treatment:
- Use only lukewarm water and mild soap. Let water run over the treated area. Do not rub.
- Do not wear tight clothing over the treatment area.
- Try not to rub, scrub, or scratch any sensitive spots.
- Avoid putting anything that is hot or cold, such as heating pads or ice packs, on the treated skin, unless told by your doctor or nurse.
- Unless instructed differently by your doctor or nurse, do not use powders, creams, perfumes, deodorants, body oils, ointments, lotions, or home remedies on the treatment area during treatment and for several weeks after therapy. Products can irritate the skin and may interfere with the radiation treatment. Only use lotions and soaps that have been recommended by your doctor or nurse.
- Avoid sun exposure during treatment, and for at least 1 year after treatment.
- If expected to be in the sun formore than a fewminutes, wear protective clothing. Ask your doctor or nurse about using sunscreen lotions.
Nausea and Dietary Considerations
Some people may feel nauseous for a few hours right after radiation treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse about taking medication before or while receiving radiation treatment. This will prevent or help to control nausea. Be sure to take the medicine as prescribed. Children receiving General Anesthesia may receive additional anti-nausea medication from the pediatric anesthesia team.
It may also be helpful to not eat for several hours before treatment. Sometimes it's better to receive treatment on an empty stomach. After treatment, it may help to wait 1 to 2 hours before eating again.
Your child may eat a bland snack helps to prevent nausea or help an upset stomach. Eat a bland snack such as toast or crackers. Here are some tips to help an upset stomach or nausea:
- Follow any special diet your doctor or dietitian gives you.
- Give your child small meals.
- Avoid foods that are fried or high in fat.
- Provide cool liquids between meals.
- Serve foods that have only a mild smell.
- Serve foods served cool or at room temperature.
- For a very upset stomach, serve clear liquids (broth and juices) or bland foods that are easy to digest, such as dry toast and gelatin.
Talk to your CHOP dietitian for more ideas on managing nausea.
Low Blood Counts
Depending on the area of the body being treated, blood counts may be affected. Radiation may lower the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Normal levels of these cells are needed to help stay well. When blood counts are low, there may be a risk for anemia, infection or bleeding. If the radiation is expected to affect blood counts, you will receive special instructions about what to look for and do. Blood tests will be done often. You can find more information about low blood counts in your Oncology Home Management book.
Close to the end of your child's treatment, you will have a visit with your radiation oncologist. This will take place after the last treatment has been given. During this visit, the doctor will examine your child and discuss follow-up care.
A follow-up care will be scheduled between two and six weeks after therapy is completed and at regular intervals. Your CHOP oncologist will also follow your child's progress on a regular basis. We understand that you may be seeing other physicians, but it is important for you and your child to continue to visit your radiation oncologist. This is so that any radiation-related problems can be identified early and treated. Your radiation oncologist will stay in touch with your other cancer specialists.
Coping with Radiation Treatment
The experience of helping your child through radiation treatment can be extremely stressful. Many parents experience worry and fear as they take their children to treatment. As treatment begins, both you and your child will adjust to the routine. It may be difficult to juggle all your other responsibilities, including work, other children, and family duties. The caregiver role is one that can leave people depressed if they don't get enough support. It is important to get practical help from family and friends to manage all the added tasks you may have. In addition, the radiation oncology social worker can provide support and assistance with these concerns.
See all articles: Radiation Treatment: A Parent’s Guide
Download full Radiation Treatment: A Parent’s Guide [PDF]