More than half of all people with cancer receive radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatment. Doctors use radiation therapy to treat just about every type of cancer. Radiation therapy is also useful in treating some noncancerous (benign) tumors.
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy most often gets its power from X-rays, but the power can also come from protons or other types of energy.
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 alleviate symptoms caused by the cancer
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on which part of your body is being exposed to radiation and how much radiation is used. You may experience no side effects, or you may experience several. Most side effects are temporary, can be controlled and generally disappear over time once treatment has ended.
Risks of Radiation Therapy
|Part of body being treated||Common side effects|
|Any part||Hair loss at treatment site (sometimes permanent), skin irritation at treatment site, fatigue|
|Head and neck||Dry mouth, thickened saliva, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, changes in the way food tastes, nausea, mouth sores, tooth decay|
|Chest||Difficulty swallowing, cough, shortness of breath|
|Abdomen||Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea|
|Pelvis||Diarrhea, bladder irritation, frequent urination, sexual dysfunction|
Source: National Cancer Institute