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Radiation Therapy

What Is Radiation Therapy?

Last modified: 
17/04/2013 - 15:05

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Radiation therapy is one of several treatments used to treat cancer by itself or in combination with other forms of treatment, most often surgery or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is also called radiotherapy.

You've probably seen an X-ray of your teeth or some other part of your body. At high doses - many times greater than those used for X-ray exams - radiation can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. More than half of all cancer patients receive some radiation therapy as part of their treatment.

Radiation is given either externally, through external beam radiation, or increasingly through internal radiation, also called brachytherapy. New research is focusing using special cells within the body (called monoclonal antibodies) to deliver radiation therapy directly to the cancer site.

External Radiation Therapy

External beam therapy is administered just like a normal X-ray. The radiation used for external beam radiation treatments comes from special machines, such as linear accelerators, cobalt machines, or orthovoltage x-ray machines. They deliver intense treatments with pinpoint accuracy.

Two of the more common types of radiation used include x-rays and gamma rays. State and federal guidelines strictly regulate the use and care of such equipment and the patient's safety is given the highest priority.

Internal Radiation Therapy Or Brachytherapy

Internal radiation therapy involves placing radioactive substances such as cesium, iridium, and iodine near or into cancerous cells within the body. Patients usually remain in the hospital for at least one day. Implants may be permanent or temporary. Implants can be placed:

  • Within the tumor within a body cavity such as the abdomen, called intracavitary
  • Directly into the cancerous area, called interstitial
  • By mouth or by injection

Nice To Know:

A highly qualified team of professionals will plan, perform, and supervise your treatments. Specialists in radiation therapy will be available to answer your questions at every stage.

If you have questions about treatments, it's better to talk to a health professional familiar with your care, rather than a friend or family member who had a similar type of cancer. Your doctor, nurse, or radiographer welcome any and all questions you may have relating to treatment.

What Is Cancer?

"Cancer" is the name for a group of diseases in which the cells from organs or tissues grow out of control. This growth can form a mass or tumor, which can displace normal cells. A tumor can spread to surrounding tissues or organs. This happens when tiny cells break off and travel throughout the body via the blood or lymph system and begin growing in new locations.

Not all tumors are cancerous. Benign tumors grow very slowly and pose little threat to a person's health.

Facts About Radiation Therapy

  • About 60 percent of all cancer patients will require radiation therapy as part of their care.
  • Radiation therapy can be used to help cure cancer or to relieve symptoms alone or in combination with other therapies, such as surgery or chemotherapy.
  • Most patients who need radiation will have treatments four or five days a week for five to seven weeks.
  • Most people receive radiation for one to five minutes per treatment.
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Radiation Therapy

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.