What You May Not Know About Radiation Therapy

If you have cancer, your physician may be planning to prescribe radiation therapy. However, if you have never had this type of treatment, you may be concerned about what to expect.

This type of therapy is not widely used to treat many conditions other than cancer, so you may know little about it. Here is a bit of information about radiation therapy to help you better understand it.

Radiation Therapy Doesn't Make You Radioactive

Even though radiation therapy uses radiation to help destroy cancer cells, it does not cause your cells to become radioactive. The radiation is simply a type of energy that is controlled to target unwanted cells.

Multiple Sessions of Therapy Are Needed

As damage occurs to the cancer cells, they are unable to easily recover. Multiple sessions of radiation are usually performed to progressively damage the cells, eventually leading to their death.

During radiation therapy, some healthy cells are exposed to the damaging energy. However, the healthy cells are better able to heal than cancer cells are. 

Radiation Can Kill Any Cancerous Cell

Radiation is capable of killing any type of cancer cell. However, it should only be used in situations in which it is not likely to kill a large number of healthy cells. Thus, your doctor will assess the benefit and risks of the therapy before prescribing it.

Most Radiation Therapy Uses External Beams

Most radiation therapy uses energy rays that originate from outside of the patient's body. The beams, which are produced by a machine, are directed at the cancerous cells. Common types of radiation therapy that uses external beams include:

  • 3D CRT. Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy uses imaging produced by scans to reveal the tumor's location, shape and size.
  • SRS. Stereotactic radiosurgery exposes a tiny area of a tumor to a significant dose of radiation energy.
  • IGRT. Image-guided radiation therapy uses images to help aim the radiation rays.
  • IMRT. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy directs the beams of radiation based on the exact shape of the tumor.

Radiation Therapy Can Use Internal Beams

With internal radiation therapy, material that is radioactive is placed inside the body to kill cancer cells. The radioactive material may be left in place for a short time before removal. However, in some instances, it is left in place permanently. 

You May Undergo a Trial Run Before the Actual Therapy

Before your radiation therapy sessions begin, you may participate in a simulation. This trial run allows the oncologist to plan the best position for your body during treatment.

For more information about radiation therapy, visit an oncologist in your local area.