Radiation treatment is very common in cancer treatment. More than half of all patients treated for cancer receive radiation therapy. It is used to treat almost every type of cancer. Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. X-rays are most often used in radiation therapy, but protons or other types of energy also can be used.
When Radiation Therapy Is Used
- As the only (primary) cancer treatment.
- To shrink a cancerous tumor, before surgery.
- To stop the growth of any remaining cancer cells, after surgery.
- To destroy cancer cells, in combination with other treatments.
- To alleviate symptoms and pain caused by advanced cancer.
Side effects from Radiation therapy depend on which part of your body is being exposed and how much radiation is given in. Most side effects are temporary, and can be controlled. Radiation therapy is also used in treating some noncancerous tumors.
This therapy is very individualized. This means that every patient will experience side effects differently. Some common side effects are: fatigue, nausea, lymphedema (a type of swelling), hair loss, and radiation recall (burns). It is important to stay well hydrated during your radiation treatment.
Preparing For Radiation
Before you undergo radiation therapy, radiologist oncologist will guide you through a planning process. Planning typically includes:
Radiation simulation During simulation, your radiation oncologist will work with you to find a comfortable position during treatment. It’s important that you lie still during treatment. To do this, you’ll lie on the same type of table that’s used during radiation therapy. Cushions and restraints are used to position you in the right way and to help you lay still. Your radiation therapy team will mark the area of your body that will receive the radiation. Depending on your situation, you may receive temporary marking with a marker or you may receive small permanent tattoos.
Planning Scans Your radiation oncologist will have you undergo computerized tomography (CT) scans to determine the exact area of your body to be treated.
Treatment sessions last approximately 10 to 30 minutes. As you lay on the treatment table the radiation machine moves around you. The machine can be noisy buzzing and banging along the way. Your radiation oncologist leaves the room but will be able to see, hear and talk to you during the session.