The radiotherapy targets the affected area but sadly sometimes it also damages healthy cells. The damage can affect everyone differently and depends on the type of cancer and how much treatment each patient has.
Symptoms can start during treatment itself or sometimes it can start after treatment has ended. They also range from mild side effects to totally debilitating ones.
The symptoms, if severe can impact your quality of life dramatically. Changes in bowel habits, urinary problems, bloating, faecal incontinence, constipation - they are all possible side effects. The good news is they can often be treated or controlled to some extent by a change in diet and other lifestyle changes and also medication.
According to The Pelvic Radiation Disease Association, around 90% of patients who have treatment to the abdomen or pelvis for cancer get some bowel upset during treatment but 50% develop gastro-intestinal symptoms which affect their quality of life and range from minor to major issues.
I have lived with PRD for 11 years now since I had my treatment for womb cancer. The bowel issues started on day 3 of the external radiotherapy and it's been ongoing ever since. As a vegetarian for over 30 years I eat a high fibre diet so have had to adjust that considerably; due to lots of trial and error I now know what foods make the issue worse so can eliminate them from my diet.
However, my issues are compounded somewhat by the fact that as well as the PRD I also have an epi-gastric hernia that they are reluctant to repair due to the PRD. So I swing between bouts of faecal incontinence & severe constipation - often within the same day. Also, I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes which has meant that I have had to change my diet yet again and after a few years of relative stability with my bowels I am back to having several bouts of really bad diarrhoea every week, which is no fun at all and therefore my quality of life is zero.
It's getting to the point where I don't want to eat because I dread the consequences. Because of my other health issues I have limited mobility so rarely make it to the loo in time which is not only embarrassing but tiring. The medication I was put on for the diabetes made the issue worse so I came off that and am reluctant to take any medication that lists diarrhoea as a side effect!!
I've come to the conclusion that most people don't realise the debilitating affect that PRD can have - lets face it anything related to toilet habits or bowel issues is always treated as a joke.
I don't like talking about my issues, especially when its to a complete stranger on the end of the phone when I recently had my PIP re-assessment but I do so to raise awareness and end the stigma.
If you think you might be affected or want more info then check out The Pelvic Radiation Disease Association