Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is used to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and dividing by high-energy rays.
The therapy is performed by a radiation oncologist as external radiation or internal radiation therapy and some patients can receive both kinds of therapy.
During external radiation, the patient receives therapy on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic 5 days a week for a number a number of weeks from a machine. The patient is not radioactive during or after the treatment.
During internal radiation, a temporary or permanent implant with a radioactive material is placed directly into or near the tumor so the patient must stay in the hospital for a few days because the level of radiation is highest during first few days. If the implant is permanent, the amount of radiation goes down to a safe level before the patients leave the hospital.
The side effects of radiation therapy depend on the part of the body that is treated and on the treatment dose but usual side effects are:
- Skin reactions in the treated area like a rash or redness,permanent pigmentation, and scarring
- Loss of appetite
Also, a number of white blood cells which protect the body against infection can be decreased.
The side effects of radiation therapy can be unpleasant, but they can usually be treated or controlled.