Radiation Therapy

Targeted cancer treatment

By Brandie Umar, Executive Director of ContentLast modified: March 21, 2011

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy targets cancer cells directly, using high doses of radiation to prevent the cells from dividing. Radiation oncologists can administer radiation to cancer cells externally or internally.


External radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy is given on an outpatient basis and will be repeated over a number of appointments. Markers are placed on the patients body in the exact location of the cancer cells to help the oncologist guide the radiation and avoid damaging healthy tissue. To ensure that the radiation is targeted at the same location during every radiation procedure, the markers will be permanent. Cycles of radiation therapy are given in multiple treatment doses, usually over the course of one or two weeks. 


Internal radiation therapy

Internal radiation therapy,or Brachytherapy is administered through an implant placed inside the body. This form of radiation therapy is used to target a smaller area of cancer cells and provide a more intense dose of radiation over a shorter period of time. Radioactive 'seeds' are placed in or around the tumor. The 'seeds' contain either high(HDR) or low (LDR) doses of radiation that is released over a few days or months depending on the extent of radiation therapy needed. 


Side effects of radiation therapy

Radiation therapy can have many of the same side effects as chemotherapy, such as hair loss and  fatigue. The side effects of radiation therapy are usually localized to the area that is being treated with radiation and most side effects will disappear after treatment.


Radiation therapy patients may have to limit the contact with visitors during a course of radiation treatment as excess exposure to radiation can be harmful to pregnant women and children. 





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