Possible Side Effects

Radiation is more harmful to tumor cells than it is to normal cells. Still, normal tissue may also be damaged by radiation, which is the cause of most side effects, if they do occur. Side effects are cumulative, which means they can develop over several weeks as the radiation accumulates in the tumor. They are usually temporary and should subside shortly after treatment ends.

These are some common side effects of spinal cancer radiation therapy:

  • Skin irritation similar to sunburn. Your healthcare team may advise you to avoid exposing the treated skin to the sun because it may worsen the skin condition.
  • Fatigue
  • Rarely after radiation therapy, a large mass of dead (necrotic) tissue forms at the site of the tumor. This occurs months to years after radiation is given and is called radiation necrosis. Usually, this tissue is absorbed by the body. Occasionally, surgery may be needed to remove the necrotic tissue.
  • Loss of sensation — which may be temporary. In rare cases, it is permanent.
  • Paralysis - which may be temporary. In rare cases, it is permanent.
  • Damage to nerves, or disability from nerve damage
  • Bone fracture and vertebral body collapse — for tumors which have already significantly invaded the vertebral bodies. Vertroplasty or Kyphoplasty is one of many techniques to minimize this effect in those cases.