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Radiation Therapy

Slowing the growth and stopping the spread of cancer cells.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a treatment for cancer that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading. Low doses of radiation are used in common activities such as X-rays of your teeth or bones, yet when given in high doses, radiation kills or slows the growth of cancer cells.

Radiation therapy may be used at different times during your cancer treatment and for different reasons:

Radiation is delivered differently depending on the nature of the cancer. It can be delivered by an external beam using a linear accelerator (linac) or internally, where a source of radiation is placed inside the body (often called brachytherapy).

External Beam Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a well-proven treatment for cancer and new advances have made it safer and more effective than ever. External beam radiation therapy comes from a linear accelerator that aims radiation at your cancer. Most people get external beam radiation therapy once a day, five days a week, Monday through Friday. Treatment lasts for two to 10 weeks, depending on the type of cancer you have and the goal of your treatment. The time between your first and last radiation therapy sessions is called a course of treatment. Radiation may also be given in smaller doses twice a day (hyperfractionated radiation therapy).

You should know:

Types of Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy Treatment Procedure

Possible Side-Effects of Radiation Therapy

Side effects can occur with radiation therapy because the high doses of radiation used to kill cancer cells may have also damaged healthy cells in the treatment area. Side effects are different for each person, with some people having more and others barely noticing any. Side effects may be more severe if you also receive chemotherapy to treat your cancer.

Most side effects occur gradually, usually beginning to appear by the second or third week into treatment. They are temporary, but some may continue for weeks or months after your treatment before they subside. Talk to your radiation therapy team about your chances of having side effects and let them know if you have any problems.

Many people who get radiation therapy have skin changes and some fatigue. Other side effects depend on the part of your body being treated and may disappear after about two months of the completion of your treatment.

During radiation therapy, your body will use up more energy than it normally does, causing feelings of fatigue. Additionally, the stress of coping with a serious illness, trips for treatment and the effects of radiation on the body all can cause fatigue. It is common for fatigue to last for 4-6 weeks after your treatment has been completed, after which it will begin to improve.

Skin changes may include dryness, itching, peeling, or blistering. These changes, which are generally temporary, occur because radiation therapy damages healthy skin cells in the treatment area. You will need to take special care of your skin during radiation therapy.