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Discharge Instructions for Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a way to treat cancer. There are many reasons why radiation is used. The reason and how it is given depends on your treatment plan.

Recovery times differ for each person. Comfort measures depend on the problems you have.

Steps to Take

Home Care

Radiation can cause side effects. The most common are feeling tired, or diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. You may also notice changes to your skin, mouth, or throat.

Your care team will help you manage these problems. Examples include:

  • Lotions or creams to ease skin problems such as itching or redness.
  • Rinses or mouthwashes to soothe sores or cuts in your mouth.
  • Relax with meditation or music to ease nausea and vomiting.
  • Plan out your day with a calendar if you have problems thinking clearly.

Talk to your care team as soon as problems appear. This will help you better control them.


Diarrhea, mouth sores, nausea, or vomiting can make it hard to eat or drink. Try to get as much nutrition as you can to stay strong. General steps include:

  • Eat 5 to 6 small meals a day instead of 3 large meals.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat starchy foods such as bread, pasta, or potatoes.
  • Eat foods that are high in protein such as chicken, fish, or eggs.
  • Try milkshakes, smoothies, or liquid supplements when you do not feel like eating.

A dietitian will help you plan meals and choose foods based on the problems you have.

Physical Activity

Try to move around as much as you can, even if it is just for short walks. In general:

  • It is common to feel tired. Balance periods of activity with rest.
  • Do not do any activity that causes pain or irritation to the area that is being treated.
  • Ask your doctor when you can return to work.
  • Do not drive until your doctor says it is okay.


Medicine will help ease symptoms such as pain, nausea, or skin rash.

If you are taking medicine:

  • Take medicine as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medicine.
  • Do not share your prescription medicine.
  • Medicine can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one medicine. This includes over-the-counter products and supplements.


Your doctor will check on your progress. You may have tests to track how the treatment is going. It may be changed based on the test results. It is important to go to all recommended appointments.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occur

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection such as fever or chills
  • Loss of hunger
  • Loose stools
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Passing urine often
  • Pain or burning when passing urine
  • Unusual swelling or lumps
  • Lasting nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that is not helped by medicine
  • Unusual changes in skin such as bruises, rashes, discharge, or bleeding
  • Cough, trouble breathing, or chest pain
  • Worsening symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute


Canadian Cancer Society

Health Canada


Coping with radiation treatment. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/radiation/coping.html. Updated October 26, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2019.

Managing side effects. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects.html. Accessed March 20, 2019.

Radiation dermatitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T922117/Radiation-dermatitis. Updated June 11, 2018. Accessed March 20, 2019.

Radiation therapy to treat cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/radiation-therapy. Updated January 8, 2019. Accessed March 20, 2019.

Side effects of cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects. Updated August 9, 2018. Accessed March 20, 2019.

Last reviewed March 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Nicole Meregian, PA  Last Updated: 3/20/2019