A cancer treatment to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
 
Radiation therapy can be given before or after surgery.  Sometimes radiotherapy and chemotherapy are given at the same time.
 
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.  There are several types of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer.  The most common type of machine used for radiation therapy is called a linear accelerator.  Most patients go to the hospital or clinic for their treatment, generally five days a week for several weeks.
  • Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.  The patient stays in the hospital, and the implants generally remain in place for several days.  Usually they are removed before the patient goes home.
  • Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) – in some cases, radiation is given during surgery.
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Will you suffer from side effects?
 
Radiation therapy can destroy cancer cells, but it can also have an effect on some of the surrounding normal cells.
 
Side effects depend mainly on the amount of radiation given and the part of your body that is treated.  Radiation therapy to your abdomen and pelvis may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloody stools, or urgent bowel movements.  It also may cause urinary problems, such as being unable to stop the flow of urine from the bladder.  In addition, your skin in the treated area may become red, dry, and tender.  The skin near the anus is especially sensitive.
 
You are likely to become very tired during radiation therapy, especially in the later weeks of treatment.  Resting is important, but doctors usually advise patients to try to stay as active as they can.
 
Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be distressing, your doctor can usually treat or control them.  Also, side effects usually go away after treatment ends.
 
You may want to ask your doctor these questions about radiation therapy:
  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • When will the treatments begin?
  • When will they end?
  • How will I feel during treatment?
  • How will we know if the radiation treatment is working?
  • What can I do to take care of myself during treatment?
  • Can I continue my normal activities?
  • Are there any lasting effects?
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