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Radiation Therapy

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Radiation Therapy is often used solely or combined with other cancer treatments. Radiation therapy is the careful use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer. Doctors who specialize in treating cancer with radiation (radiation oncologists) may use radiation to cure cancer or to relieve your symptoms caused by cancer.

Radiation therapy works because the radiation destroys the cancer cells' ability to reproduce and then the body naturally gets rid of these cells. About 50 to 60 percent of cancer patients are treated with radiation at some point during their cancer journey.

How Radiation Therapy Works

  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy may be used to try to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind after surgery. It is also used to treat cancers that have spread, most often if the spread is to the bones or brain
  • Radiation therapy can be given either before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) to shrink the tumor or after surgery (adjuvant therapy) to prevent the cancer from coming back in the area where the cancer started

Treatment Options

Your doctor may suggest radiation therapy as an option at different times during your cancer treatment and for different reasons, including:

  • As the only (primary) treatment for cancer
  • Before surgery, to shrink a cancerous tumor (neoadjuvant therapy)
  • After surgery, to stop the growth of any remaining cancer cells (adjuvant therapy)
  • In combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, to destroy cancer cells
  • In advanced cancer to lessen symptoms caused by the cancer

Types of Radiation Therapy

External beam radiation therapy

Projects high energy x-rays from a machine outside of your body targeted at the tumor site

Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT)

  • Uses a 3D system to locate and treat tumors anywhere in the body with extreme accuracy
  • Aggressively treats tumors, allowing fewer days of radiation
  • Delivers a lower total dose of radiation and lessens the risk of side effects

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

  • Uses advanced technology to manipulate and precisely conform to the shape of a tumor
  • Accurately targets tumors to avoid or reduce exposure of healthy tissue to limit the side effects of treatment

Brachytherapy

  • Uses radioactive material placed inside your body to treat cancer. Often referred to as internal radiation
  • Allows doctors to deliver higher doses of radiation to more-specific areas of the body, compared with external radiation
  • Causes fewer side effects than external radiation, and the overall treatment time is usually shorter

Effects of Radiation Therapy

Side effects of radiation therapy depend on which part of your body is being exposed to radiation, how much radiation is used and the type of radiation given. You may experience no side effects, or you may experience several.

Side effects are often temporary, can be controlled and generally disappear over time once treatment is over. Some side effects may develop later. Ask your doctor about potential side effects, both short and long term that may occur after your treatment.

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