Print    Email
Decrease (-) Restore Default Increase (+)

Health Information

 

Radiation therapy

Definition

Radiation therapy uses high-powered x-rays, particles, or radioactive seeds to kill cancer cells.

Alternative Names

Radiotherapy

Information

Cancer cells multiply faster than normal cells in the body. Because radiation is most harmful to quickly growing cells, radiation therapy damages cancer cells more than normal cells. This prevents the cancer cells from growing and dividing, and leads to cell death.

Radiation therapy is used to fight many types of cancer. Sometimes, radiation is the only treatment needed. It may also be used to:

  • Shrink a tumor as much as possible before surgery
  • Help prevent the cancer from coming back after surgery or chemotherapy
  • Relieve symptoms caused by a tumor
  • Treat cancers that cannot be removed with surgery

TYPES OF RADIATION THERAPY

External beam radiation is the most common form. This method carefully aims high-powered x-rays or particles directly at the tumor from outside of the body.

Internal beam radiation is placed inside of your body.

  • One method uses radioactive seeds that are placed directly into or near the tumor. This method is called brachytherapy, and is used to treat prostate cancer. It is used less often to treat breast, cervical, lung, and other cancers.
  • Another method involves receiving radiation by drinking it, swallowing a pill, or through an IV. Liquid radiation travels throughout your body, seeking out and killing cancer cells. Thyroid cancer may be treated this way.

SIDE EFFECTS OF RADIATION THERAPY

Radiation therapy can also damage or kill healthy cells. The death of healthy cells can lead to side effects.

These side effects depend on the dose of radiation, and how often you have the therapy. External beam radiation may cause skin changes, such as hair loss, red or burning skin, thinning of skin tissue, or even shedding of the outer layer of skin.

Other side effects depend on the part of body receiving radiation:

References

Zemen EM, Schreiber EC, Tepper JE. Basics of radiation therapy. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 27.

National Cancer Institute. Radiation therapy and you: support for people who have cancer. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/radiation-therapy-and-you. Accessed May 29, 2014.


Review Date: 5/29/2014
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
 
©  2014 

 Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa | 1000 4th Street SW Mason City, IA 50401 | 641-428-7000

                                   Follow Me on Pinterest   Google+