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Radiation Therapy Effects on the Brain

Updated on 19 January 2021
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Updated on 19 January 2021

Radiation therapy has been widely used to treat primary and metastatic tumors in patients suffering from cancer. Radiation therapy treatment uses waves of high energy to kill the tumor cells. This therapy has been introduced to damage cancer without hurting any other body part. Radiation therapy has significantly improved chances of patient survival though like any other therapy it has many side- effects. Side effects of therapy depend upon various factors which depend upon the type of the radiation, your immune system, the body part that is treated, etc. So there is no way to predict the severity of side- effects.

In this article, we will see what are the side effects of radiation treatment on the brain

Radiation used to treat brain tumors is also proved to be beneficial but the radiation works by breaking the connection in the brain which can lead to serious side effects like cognitive dysfunction, memory dysfunction, bleeding in the brain, nerve damage, etc. which we will be explaining in detail in this article.

Radiation side effects on the Brain

Radiation generally has some common side-effects like fatigue, hair loss, skin problems, etc. which can be short-term as well as long-term. However, there are some specific side effects that are common after treating brain tumors from radiation. 

Radiation therapy to the brain has many short terms as well as long term effects which depend upon where the radiation is aimed. Let's take a look further at the radiation side effects on the brain.

 Short- term side effects are

Headache- Headache is also common during the radiation therapy of the brain because all of your brain nerves are exposed to the treatment and get tired due to this long process. However, these are short-term side effects that can get better with prescribed medicines. Hence, this results in radiation induced brain injury

Hair loss- Hair loss is the major side-effect of head radiation as your head will be exposed to the strong waves throughout the treatment which leads to hair loss not only in the scalp but also of eyelash and eyebrows. The relief part is this is also a short-term side effect and can be resolved with a duration of time.

Fatigue- Usually every person feels tiredness or lack of energy but the fatigue that patients face during this treatment hit completely different from the one that happens naturally. The fatigue caused due to radiation cannot get better from taking rest. It may last for a long time however these are short-term side effects and go away naturally once you are done with the treatment.

Nausea- Radiation to the head, neck, or digestive tract can cause nausea as well as vomitings. This is a short term effect that can be controlled through medicines.

Hearing Loss- The reason behind this can be the radiation hardens the wax in your ear and cause hearing issues however the wax can get to its normal thickness after some time and with the help of medicines.

Skin Problems- Your skin may get multiple side effects such as itchiness, redness, swollen, or blistered. Skin can also become dry or flaky, these all are caused due to external exposure to therapy.

Seizures- Some short term memory loss with seizures can occur after whole radiation therapy.

Long- term Side Effects

Instead of all the short-term side effects mentioned above, there is the possibility of some major long term side effects which can be irreversible at times.

These are-

Radiation Necrosis- Radiation necrosis refers to the death of healthy tissues and this mass of dead tissues can be formed at the site of the tumor. It usually develops after a huge duration; it could be months or years. Damage to healthy cells can lead to seizures, memory loss, or even death. There are no medications to treat this kind of side effect and it usually requires surgery to remove the mass.

Peripheral Neuropathy- Neuropathy denotes the term used to describe damage to the nerves that are responsible to transmit messages to the brain, spinal cord, and rest of the body. This side effect can happen after months and years after radiotherapy and cause nerve damage which shows symptoms like weakness and numbness.

Bleeding in Brain- There can be brain bleed after radiation-induced vasculopathy resulting in sudden bleeding in the brain which is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. This can cause symptoms like trouble in speech, trouble walking, dizziness, or severe headaches.


Above we have covered what are the side effects of radiation treatment on the brain. Radiation is considered as the best therapy to destroy cancer cells in the brain. However, during the process, it can also harm the healthy cells which led to reversible as well as some irreversible side- effects that can be deadly at times. This makes it important to consult your oncologist on major as well as minor symptoms you develop after radiation therapy.


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