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What to know about radiation therapy



What to know about radiation therapy

What to know about radiation therapy

Radiotherapy is a term for treatments that use radiation to kill or shrink cancer cells or tumors.

There are two main types of radiation therapy used to treat cancer: external radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy.

The type of radiation your doctor gives depends on the type of cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and the patient’s general health.

Radiation therapy can help achieve a variety of treatment goals. For example, it can improve the effectiveness of surgery, prevent cancer from spreading, and relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.

This article explains the different types of radiotherapy, how they work, their side effects and risks. It also describes what to expect from radiation therapy and possible side effects.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.


More than half of people diagnosed with cancer receive radiation therapy, according to official sources from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Radiation damages the genetic material called DNA in cancer cells. If cancer cells can’t repair their DNA, they can’t make new cells and die.

According to ACST formulas, radiation can damage non-cancerous cells, but most of them are reproductive.

The patient’s medical team carefully plans the radiation treatment to minimize damage to normal tissues and organs.

Type of radiotherapy

Doctors use two main types of radiation therapy to treat cancer. in and out.


External beam radiation

External beam radiation is the most common form of radiation therapy for cancer.

External means the energy beam comes from a machine outside the body. Healthcare workers precisely direct the beam through the body to reach the cancer site.

Another name for external beam is telemedicine.

Internal radiotherapy

Another important form of radiation therapy is internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy.

During this treatment, your doctor will place an implant that contains radiation at or near the site of the cancer.


Implants come in many forms, including:

  • tube
  • Wire
  • capsule
  • seed
  • pill
  • Whole body radiation therapy

Total body radiation therapy is another form of internal radiation therapy.

To find and kill cancer cells, you must ingest radioactive material that spreads throughout your body.

Alternatively, a healthcare worker may inject a radioactive substance into a person’s vein.


External beam radiation and brachytherapy work similarly. Both are local treatments that target areas of the body by directing high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells.

However, both treatments depend on the radiation source.


In brachytherapy, radiation is delivered through an implant placed near or inside the tumor by your doctor. In external beam radiation, the radiation comes from devices outside the body.

Why do people get radiotherapy?

Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy for a number of reasons. These trusted sources include:

  • Reducing or treating cancer in its early stages
  • It prevents cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Common treatment for cancer
  • Relief of advanced cancer symptoms

Type of cancer to be treated

According to official sources from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), doctors commonly use external radiation to treat the following types of cancer:

  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Head and neck cancer

The NCI suggests that brachytherapy may be an especially effective treatment for cancer in certain areas of the body, including:

  • On the back of the neck
  • vaginas
  • uterus
  • rectum
  • head and neck
  • eye

Your doctor may also suggest brachytherapy for cancer.

  • Prostate
  • brains
  • lungs
  • Skin
  • trunk
  • esophagus
  • anus
  • Bladder

What to expect before radiation therapy

Both external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy begin with a treatment planning meeting.

Doctors examine you, ask questions about your condition and discuss treatment options. Sometimes a video recording may be requested.

A person who decides to receive external radiation therapy usually meets with a radiation oncologist and a radiation therapist for a planning session called a simulation.

A radiation therapist may place small marks on a person’s skin to show where the radiation is being directed. These marks can be temporary or in the form of tattoos.


Medical professionals can also create body models that patients use to ensure they are in the right position while receiving radiation therapy.

People receiving radiation therapy to the head or neck will need to use a face mask to keep the head in position during treatment.

What to expect during radiation therapy

What to expect during radiation therapy depends on the type of treatment you receive.

External radiation

During an external beam radiation therapy session, the patient usually lies on a table under a large machine.

The radiation therapist puts the person in a machine and moves them to a different room.


People should try to stay calm during treatment, but they often don’t hold their breath. The machine vibrates, clicks and makes noise.

An in-room speaker system allows the patient to communicate with the radiation therapist during treatment.

Internal radiation therapy

During brachytherapy, the patient care team injects radioactive material using a catheter or larger device.

Once the catheter or applicator is in place, the doctor places the radiation source inside.

In some cases, the implants remain in the body for several days before the doctor removes them.


In other cases, the doctor may insert the implant into the body for a short time, such as 10 to 20 minutes, and repeat the treatment periodically for several weeks.

When your treatment is complete, your doctor will remove the catheter or catheter.

Sometimes the implants stay in the body permanently, but over time they stop emitting radiation.

Other cancer treatments

When doctors use radiation therapy with other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy, it is called adjuvant therapy.

Some people may receive radiation therapy before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. Others may receive it after surgery to destroy cancer cells that surgery may have missed.


Doctors sometimes use radiation therapy as part of palliative care to help reduce the symptoms of advanced cancer. This may include reliable sources.

  • pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ileus


Radiation therapy is a common treatment for cancer. A person can receive radiation therapy alone or in combination with other treatments.

External radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy are two main types of radiation therapy.

Cancer type, tumor location, and treatment goals help determine the best radiation therapy.

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