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Understanding Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is one of the main treatments for many different cancers. This treatment uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth. Radiation is often given with other types of treatment, including surgery and chemotherapy.

Most radiation is direct, localized treatment that causes cancer cells to die or stops them from growing and creating more cancer cells. If normal cells are close by, they can also be affected by radiation. These cells usually heal after the radiation treatments stop.

There are several types of radiation, and sometimes patients can get more than one type of radiation therapy for the same cancer.

  • External radiation. This sends high-energy rays from a machine directly into the cancer. This treatment can be given over a period of several weeks.
  • Internal radiation. This treatment involves putting the patient to sleep or numbing part of the body. A special container holding radioactive material is then implanted in the body near the cancer. The radiation may be high dose or low dose. In some cases, the implant may be taken out and it may be put back in if needed.
  • Radioactive drugs. Sometimes patients are given radioactive drugs to treat their cancer. Some of these drugs can be taken by mouth. Others are injected into a vein. The drugs are able to attach to the cancer cells and kill them with their radiation.

Understanding Radiation Therapy

There are several types of radiation, and sometimes patients can get more than one type of radiation therapy for the same cancer.

  • External radiation. This sends high-energy rays from a machine directly into the cancer. This treatment can be given over a period of several weeks.
  • Internal radiation. This treatment involves putting the patient to sleep or numbing part of the body. A special container holding radioactive material is then implanted in the body near the cancer. The radiation may be high dose or low dose. In some cases, the implant may be taken out and it may be put back in if needed.
  • Radioactive drugs. Sometimes patients are given radioactive drugs to treat their cancer. Some of these drugs can be taken by mouth. Others are injected into a vein. The drugs are able to attach to the cancer cells and kill them with their radiation.

Side effects of radiation

Radiation therapy can have serious side effects. These include:

  • Tiredness, which can get worse as treatment goes on
  • Skin problems such as dryness, flaking and itchiness
  • Hair loss and changes to hair in the area being treated
  • Low blood counts, which can be worsened by chemotherapy
  • Lack of appetite or digestive problems, which can cause poor nutrition
  • Damage to normal cells, including the lungs or heart in some cases
  • Possible increased risk of other types of cancer

Dealing with radiation therapy

Given all of the possible side effects, it can be hard to deal with radiation therapy. Most people’s lives are disrupted. Many patients don’t feel well for weeks or months. Emotions can include anger, fear, frustration and helplessness. Some people may not be able to work or enjoy their free time.

Here are some ways to help yourself during radiation therapy treatment:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Find a support group
  • Get advice from your doctor and healthcare team
  • Rely on friends and family members

Regional Cancer Care Associates — Cancer care you can trust

At Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), our physicians are respected by their peers and trusted by our patients. Our doctors deliver top-quality, state-of-the-art treatment close to your home. At RCCA, we understand that a cancer diagnosis changes everything. That’s why we’re here, close to your community, to offer you a nationally-recognized level of cancer care.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact us at (844) 346-7222. You can also visit us online to schedule an appointment at the RCCA location nearest you.

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Regional Cancer Care Associates is one of fewer than 200 medical practices in the country selected to participate in the Oncology Care Model (OCM); a recent Medicare initiative aimed at improving care coordination and access to and quality of care for Medicare beneficiaries undergoing chemotherapy treatment.