Side effects from radiation therapy to the abdomen

During radiation therapy to the abdomen, you may experience different short-term side effects.

What are the possible short-term side effects?

Radiation therapy to the abdomen may cause a number of short-term side effects. However, everyone is different and you’re unlikely to experience all of the same side effects as someone who is receiving the same treatment as you.

If you’re concerned about any side effects during your radiation therapy treatment to the abdomen, we encourage you to speak with your care team who can help you with strategies to manage your side effects.

Types of short-term side effects

Skin reaction

Two to three weeks after your treatment begins, your skin may become red, dry and tender. This reaction can last the remainder of your treatment, and usually returns to normal four weeks after treatment finishes.

Your nurses will show you how to care for your skin and manage any skin reactions. Tell your nurse if you’re worried about a skin reaction or are experiencing any skin changes.


You may feel tired or lack energy for daily activities during your treatment. You may feel increasingly tired as you reach the end of your treatment. This is a common reaction to radiation therapy and each person is usually affected to varying degrees. Fatigue usually eases a few weeks after treatment finishes. Finding a balance between rest and activity will help you manage daily life.


Dietary changes may be required. Your nurse will discuss with you in detail any changes that are necessary. These may include avoiding rich/salty/spicy/acidic foods and alcohol consumption. Dietary supplements such as Ensure/Sustagen may be recommended. Referral to a dietitian will be organised by your nurse if required.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can be common reactions from radiation therapy to the abdomen. If required, your doctor will prescribe you anti-nausea medication. You may need to take this before treatment for your comfort.

If you experience any nausea or vomiting, please let us know as soon as possible so we can help you.

Bowel irritation

Bowel irritation may occur two to three weeks after treatment starts. Symptoms may include:

  • An increase in the number of bowel movements
  • Softer/looser bowel motions
  • Discomfort in passing a bowel motion
  • An urge to use your bowels without passing a motion (tenesmus)
  • Bleeding from the rectum (especially if you have haemorrhoids)
  • Mucus discharge

Bowel irritation can be more noticeable if you’re also receiving chemotherapy. It’s usually temporary and returns to normal two to three weeks after finishing treatment. Let your nurse know as soon as possible if you experience diarrhoea, or notice mucus or blood in your bowel movement. They will monitor the severity of the irritation and can also provide advice to help you manage. Dietary changes may be required, or a referral to a dietitian if needed.

How can I manage skin changes?

Moisturise twice a day

Your care team will recommend a cream to help manage any skin changes. At the start of your treatment, apply cream to the area being treated twice a day. As treatment progresses, you may need to apply the cream three to four times per day. Do not apply cream within the hour prior to your treatment, as cream needs to be well absorbed. Let your nursing team know if you continue to experience skin changes.

Wear loose fitting clothing

Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing that could potentially rub or irritate the skin. Loose cotton underwear is best.

Avoid excessive temperatures

Avoid exposing the treatment area to excessive temperature including direct sunlight, heat packs, ice packs, saunas or hot spas during the course of your radiation therapy. Do not use talcum powder or sunscreen in the treatment area.

Wash with warm water and pat dry

You may wash the skin that is being treated with warm water and a mild non-perfumed soap. Pat dry the skin – do not rub.


Make An Appointment