Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy or RT) uses high energy radiation from x-rays and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) that are placed inside the body in the area where the cancer cells are found (brachytherapy).
Radiation is effective in the treatment of cancer because it destroys the reproductive ability of all cells within its path. Both normal and cancer cells are affected; however, most normal cells are able to recover quickly. Radiation therapy is usually given 5 days a week for several weeks. This schedule helps protect healthy body tissues by spreading out the total dose of radiation and giving weekend rests to allow normal cells to rebuild.
Radiation can be used to treat cancer in almost every part of the body, either alone, or in combination with other treatment modalities.
Sometimes, RT is used before surgery to shrink a cancerous tumor. After surgery, it may be used to stop the growth of any cancer cells that may remain. In many cases, radiation is combined with chemotherapy to destroy a cancerous growth and prevent spreading.
Radiation is also used to reduce pressure, bleeding, pain or other symptoms which can be caused by cancer. You will feel no pain or other sensation from the treatment. Neither healthy nor cancerous tissues become radioactive during treatments. You cannot contaminate others.
Unlike chemotherapy which travels through your entire body, radiation treatments are very precise and localized. Therefore, side effects from radiation therapy are limited to the area of treatment. Your radiation oncologist will discuss with you any side effects that may occur.
A multidisciplinary team provides patient care which includes radiation oncologists, registered nurses, radiation therapists, a social worker, and dietitian. Support personnel include medical physicists, secretaries, a medical transcription professional and administrative director.