Side effects of radium treatment

Updated April 17, 2017

Radium is used in brachytherapy (internal radiation). The radium emits radiation directly to the cancerous cells or tumours, which reduces the number of healthy cells affected. Cancer cells die and tumours shrink from this treatment.


According to the American Brachytherapy Society (ABS), brachytherapy (which may include other radioactive elements instead of or in addition to radium) treats various kinds of cancer, including prostate, breast, cervical and ocular.


During radium treatment, a burning sensation at the treatment site or excessive sweating may occur. Tell the nurse or doctor if you experience either of these.

Mild Side Effects

According to Creighton University Medical Center, the most common mild side effects include skin irritation, itching, loss of appetite and fatigue.

Severe Side Effects

According to the American Cancer Society, less than 5 per cent of patients reported burning, rectal pain or diarrhoea. Thirty-three per cent of patients reported frequent urination. These side effects may appear within a week post-treatment.

Side Effects in Men

According to ABS, men who receive radium brachytherapy may develop impotence or incontinence following treatment.

Side Effects in Women

In radium brachytherapy for breast cancer, women may experience skin darkening and/or increased pore size in the treatment area. Red areas, telangiectasias, may develop as well due to dilated blood vessels.

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