Radiation therapy is the treatment of disease using penetrating beams of high-energy waves or streams of particles called radiation. Radiation in high doses kills cells or keeps them from growing and dividing. The goal of radiation is to kill the cancer cells with as little risk as possible to normal cells.
Radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy or biological therapy. Sometimes radiation is used before surgery to shrink a tumor. After surgery, it may be used to stop the growth of remaining cancer cells. Radiation often brings relief by shrinking tumors, reducing pressure, bleeding, pain or other cancer symptoms. Risks include damage to normal cells. Treatment is administered by a radiation therapy team that includes these specialists:
After a physical examination and consultation, patients receive a treatment simulation. During simulation, the patient lies on a radiation treatment table in the exact position he or she will be in during each treatment. The radiation therapist makes temporary marks on the skin to indicate the treatment area. A CT scan may be obtained to assist with these treatment-planning calculations. The entire simulation process usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Treatment typically begins about five days after simulation. Radiation treatment sessions typically take approximately five minutes, and are given Monday through Friday with Saturdays and Sundays off, over six weeks. The radiation oncologist meets with patients once a week to discuss care during radiation treatment, as well as any other issues of interest to the patient.
When radiation treatment is completed, the patient is evaluated regularly by all of the treating physicians. The typical course of follow-up includes an evaluation six weeks after completion of radiation therapy, and every six months during the first year.
Side effects sometimes include redness, swelling of the skin, fatigue and mild swelling of areas around the treatment area.
Fast Facts about Radiation Therapy