Side Effects of Whole Brain Radiation

John Christodouleas, MD
Last Modified: December 1, 2010

Question:

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My husband's doctor suggested radiation to the brain to prevent tumors from growing there. Does that work and are there long term problems to getting brain radiation?

Answer:

John Christodouleas, MD, Radiation Oncologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:
Regarding your question about radiation to the brain to prevent tumors, there are studies suggesting that preventative whole brain radiation (before tumors are seen) can prolong survival in patients with small cell lung cancer. That said, there are side effects of whole brain radiation. During or immediately after treatment, patients getting whole brain radiation can feel fatigue, headaches, nausea/vomiting and hair loss. In the longer term (greater than 6 months after the end of radiation), patients and family members may note subtle cognitive changes, such as more difficulties with short term memory functions (such as remembering lists of things). Using modern radiation techniques, very severe cognitive problems are rare (but not impossible).

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Lung Cancer Q&A Webchat. View the entire Lung Cancer Q&A transcript.

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