Radiation therapy

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on October 27, 2021.

How does cancer radiation therapy work

How does cancer radiation therapy work?

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses targeted energy, including X-rays and radioactive substances, to destroy cancer cells, shrink tumors and/or alleviate certain cancer-related symptoms. It may be used:

  • As a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells
  • In combination with other treatments to stop the growth of cancer cells
  • Before another treatment to shrink a tumor
  • After another treatment to stop the growth of any remaining cancer cells
  • To relieve symptoms of advanced cancer

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our radiation oncologists are experienced in using advanced technologies to deliver targeted radiation therapy while also proactively managing side effects. From treatment planning to follow-up, our comprehensive cancer centers provide personalized patient care and state-of-the-art radiation oncology services to help you fight cancer and manage its symptoms.

Types of radiation

Some radiation therapy delivery methods include:

  • External beam radiation therapy: Radiation is directed from a machine outside the body onto cancerous cells within the body. Examples include 3D conformal radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), TomoTherapy, proton therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery.
  • Internal radiation therapy: Radioactive material is placed (via a catheter or other carrier) directly into or near a tumor. Examples include high-dose rate brachytherapy.
  • Systemic radiation therapy: A radioactive substance (that is swallowed or injected) travels through the blood to locate and destroy cancerous cells. Examples include radioactive iodine therapy.

Managing radiation side effects

Typical radiation therapy can be damaging to the body and cause unpleasant side effects, such as skin changes, fatigue, nausea and other issues, depending on the part of your body being treated. During your radiation treatment, radiation therapists and clinicians from a variety of supportive care services will work with you to reduce side effects and improve your quality of life.

Six tips for staying hydrated

As important as it is to stay hydrated when you’re well, studies show it’s essential during cancer treatment. However, maintaining hydration may be a challenge for patients who are unable to consume enough fluid or who lose too much due to the symptoms of the disease or side effects of treatment.

Staying hydrated

Experienced care team

Our radiation oncology team specializes in delivering high radiation doses to tumors with less damage to normal tissues and organs. Our radiation oncologists will work closely with you and the rest of your cancer care team to deliver radiation therapy based on your individual needs.

Individualized treatment approach

Radiation therapy is an important part of treatment for many of our cancer patients. Since each cancer type requires a different approach, your treatment options will depend on your unique needs and treatment goals.

Our radiation oncologists use advanced imaging techniques before and during radiation treatment so we can closely track the tumor. We use highly targeted radiation technologies to deliver high radiation doses to tumors, with techniques designed to have less impact on healthy tissues and organs.

Depending on your individual needs, you may receive radiation therapy alone or in combination with other treatment modalities like surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or immunotherapy. Throughout your treatment, your radiation oncologist will monitor the progress of your radiation therapy regimen and modify your treatment plan as needed.

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