How Does Radiation Therapy Work in the Cancer Treatment Process?

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is one of the common cancer treatment modalities. Trained doctors and oncologists use this form of treatment to target tumors in the body to damage or destroy cancer cells.

Radiation can be used by itself or in combination with other cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Radiation therapy may be administered in conjunction with other cancer treatments to improve their efficacy. Patients may undergo radiation before, during or after other treatments, like surgery, to increase the likelihood of eliminating tumors and preventing recurrence.

The timing of when radiation is administered also depends on the type of cancer being treated and the goal of treatment (i.e., to treat the cancer or ease the symptoms).

Depending on the patient, the stage of their cancer, the type of cancer and the size of tumors, radiation may be the only form of treatment needed.

What Is Radiation Therapy?

During radiation therapy, a doctor will shoot high-energy particles or waves such as gamma rays, x-rays, protons or electron beams into tumors. These high-energy particles break down the cancer cells’ DNA to prevent them from growing and dividing. If the cells are broken, they cannot continue their lifecycle and will eventually die.

There is a chance healthy cells near the treatment site can be affected by radiation. In most cases, those cells can recover and function normally again within a couple of weeks.

What Is the Purpose of Radiation Therapy?

  • To shrink or cure cancer at an early stage
  • To prevent cancer from spreading or coming back
  • To relieve symptoms of advanced-stage cancer
  • To treat cancer that has recurred

How Is Radiation Therapy Different from Other Cancer Treatment Options?

Other forms of treatment like chemotherapy often expose the entire body to cancer-fighting drugs. Radiation therapy is traditionally a localized approach that only affects the part of the body targeted during treatment sessions.

There is a form of radiation called systematic radiation therapy that must be given by mouth or in a vein. Although this radioactive substance travels throughout the body, it collects at the site of a tumor — reducing any potential effects on the rest of the body.

How is Radiation Therapy Administered?

The two most common methods for delivering radiation therapy are external beam radiation and internal radiation.

External beam radiation uses high-energy x-rays to target a tumor from the outside of the body. Internal radiation (also called brachytherapy) uses a radioactive device that’s placed inside the body near or in the tumor.

The type of therapy a patient receives will depend on the cancer type and its location in the body.

At Community Cancer Center, we strive to ensure our oncologists have all the necessary tools they may need to treat patients, which is why we offer both radiation therapy options.

What Side Effects are Associated with Radiation Therapy?

A patient going through radiation therapy may experience a range of side effects depending on where the treatment is being administered. For example, a patient receiving radiation to their head or neck may experience side effects like dry mouth, nausea or stiffness in the jaw. A patient receiving radiation to their stomach or abdomen may experience side effects like loss of appetite, bowel cramping or vomiting.

While there are site-specific side effects caused by the type of radiation and area targeted during treatment, there are also some general side effects that patients may experience during radiation therapy.

  • Fatigue
  • Skin changes (i.e., dryness, itchiness, peeling or blistering)
  • Late effects like “second cancer” or a new cancer that develops because of initial treatment

Coping with radiation therapy side effects can be an emotional and physical strain on your body and your mental health. Our care team at Community Cancer Center in Roseburg, Oregon can provide you with tips for managing side effects and ways to take care of yourself during and after treatment.

If you’re undergoing radiation therapy, it’s vital you get enough rest, stay hydrated and eat well during your treatment period. Always let your oncologist know when you experience side effects and which ones worsen or continue.

Our cancer treatment team has helped many patients cope with the side effects of cancer treatment, and we have advice to help you get through this particularly difficult stage of your recovery.

Have You Been Diagnosed with Cancer? Our Oncologists and Cancer Treatment Experts Specialize in Providing Cancer Treatments in Southwestern Oregon

Finding out you have cancer is not an easy thing to hear. It’s easy to become disheartened, especially during the early days of your cancer treatments, but you are not alone. Our dedicated team at Community Cancer Center helps patients navigate this challenging time, from diagnosis to the final treatment.

Call 541-673-2267 (Ext. 5100) to learn more about our treatment options in Roseburg.