radiation stops cancer cells from spreading

Under our care, SWGynOnc doctors and nurses will explain why radiation therapy is recommended for your diagnosis, what you can expect during radiation therapy treatments, and how to manage side effects for your overall well being.

Radiation Therapy and You

“Radiation Therapy and You” is a book written for you – someone who is about to get or is now getting radiation therapy for cancer. People who are close to you may also find this book helpful.

This book is a guide that you can refer to throughout radiation therapy. It has facts about radiation therapy and side effects and describes how you can care for yourself during and after treatment.

  • Questions To Ask. Questions for you to think about and discuss with your doctor, nurse, and others involved in your treatment and care.
  • Ways To Learn More. Places to go for more information – in print, online (Internet), and by telephone.

 

What is radiation therapy?

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading.

At low doses, radiation is used as an x-ray to see inside your body and take pictures, such as x-rays of your teeth or broken bones.

Radiation used in cancer treatment works in much the same way, except that it is given at higher doses.

How is radiation therapy given?

How is radiation therapy given?

Radiation therapy can be external beam (when a machine outside your body aims radiation at cancer cells) or internal (when radiation is put inside your body, in or near the cancer cells).

Sometimes people get both forms of radiation therapy.

To learn more about external beam radiation therapy, see “External Beam Radiation Therapy”.

To learn more about internal radiation therapy, see “Internal Beam Radiation Therapy”.

Who gets radiation therapy?

Who gets radiation therapy?

Many people with cancer need radiation therapy.

In fact, more than half (about 60 percent) of people with cancer get radiation therapy.

Sometimes, radiation therapy is the only kind of cancer treatment people need.

What does radiation therapy do to cancer cells?

What does radiation therapy do to cancer cells?

Given in high doses, radiation kills or slows the growth of cancer cells. Radiation therapy is used to:

  • Treat cancer. Radiation can be used to cure, stop, or slow the growth of cancer.
  • Reduce symptoms. When a cure is not possible, radiation may be used to shrink cancer tumors in order to reduce pressure. Radiation therapy used in this way can treat problems such as pain, or it can prevent problems such as blindness or loss of bowel and bladder control.
How long does radiation therapy take to work?

How long does radiation therapy take to work?

Radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells right away. It takes days or weeks of treatment before cancer cells start to die. Then, cancer cells keep dying for weeks or months after radiation therapy ends.

What does radiation therapy do to healthy cells?

What does radiation therapy do to healthy cells?

Radiation not only kills or slows the growth of cancer cells, it can also affect nearby healthy cells. The healthy cells almost always recover after treatment is over.

But sometimes people may have side effects that do not get better or are severe. Doctors try to protect healthy cells during treatment by:

  • Using as low a dose of radiation as possible. The radiation dose is balanced between being high enough to kill cancer cells yet low enough to limit damage to healthy cells.
  • Spreading out treatment over time. You may get radiation therapy once a day for several weeks or in smaller doses twice a day. Spreading out the radiation dose allows normal cells to recover while cancer cells die.
  • Aiming radiation at a precise part of your body. New techniques, such as IMRT and 3-D conformal radiation therapy, allow your doctor to aim higher doses of radiation at your cancer while reducing the radiation to nearby healthy tissue.
  • Using medicines. Some drugs can help protect certain parts of your body, such as the salivary glands that make saliva (spit).