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Understanding Radiation Therapy Neurological Damage: Symptoms and Management

Apr 02, 2024
Radiation therapy for nervous system tumors can lead to neurological damage, manifesting as acute, early-delayed, and late-delayed symptoms, with varying degrees of severity and impact on quality of life.
Homed-Understanding Radiation Therapy Neurological Damage: Symptoms and Management

Radiation therapy neurological damage

Radiation therapy is used in treating nervous system tumors, targeting either the entire area, like the brain, for multiple or ill-defined tumors, or focusing on well-defined tumors. Despite efforts to minimize harm, radiation can damage the nervous system. The risk and severity of damage depend on various factors, including the total radiation dose, dose per treatment, treatment duration, exposure extent, and individual susceptibility influenced by age, genetics, and health.

Radiation therapy spread over days to weeks is designed to maximize effectiveness while minimizing normal tissue damage.

Radiation-induced symptoms vary in onset:

  • Acute symptoms appear within days, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and confusion, due to cerebral edema. These often lessen as treatment progresses. Corticosteroids like dexamethasone can alleviate swelling.

  • Early-delayed effects occur within a few months, resembling acute symptoms. In children undergoing whole-brain radiation, like for leukemia, these symptoms often subside over days or weeks, with corticosteroids hastening recovery.

  • Late-delayed effects emerge months to years post-treatment, affecting both children and adults, especially after whole-brain radiation. Children, treated for medulloblastoma, face a higher risk due to their increased radiation sensitivity. Symptoms include cognitive decline, memory impairment, personality shifts, and motor coordination issues.

Radiation near the spine can lead to late-delayed myelopathy, causing sensory loss, proprioception issues, and weakness. Neck flexion might trigger Lhermitte sign, an electric shock-like sensation along the spine. This condition can be permanent and may lead to paralysis.

Understanding these phases and symptoms is crucial in managing and mitigating radiation therapy’s neurological impacts, ensuring a careful balance between treatment efficacy and quality of life preservation.

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Radiation therapy neurological damage

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