Radiation beams change the composition of the tumor's DNA, causing it to shrink or die. This type of cancer treatment has fewer side effects than chemotherapy, since it only targets one area of the body. Chemotherapy, or “chemo,” uses special medications to reduce or kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy, or “radiation,” kills these cells with high-energy beams, such as X-rays or protons.
Every cancer is different, so there's no way to predict long-term survival or side effects based solely on your treatment. Some types of cancer have a high survival rate, while others can cause death in just a few months. Radiation is one of the most common treatments for cancer. Other names for radiation therapy are radiation therapy, radiation therapy, irradiation and radiation therapy.
Sometimes, the oncologist will use the two treatments together. Although chemotherapy aims to prevent the disease from spreading, radiation focuses on particular cells. Chemotherapy can also affect the entire body, while radiation only repairs affected cells. Both treatments can cause side effects, such as hair loss, nausea, and fatigue.
Although chemotherapy delivers drugs to the entire body, radiation targets only the specific area of the body where cancer cells are present and aims to reduce the number of healthy cells that are affected during treatment. If your cancer care team recommends radiation therapy, it's because you believe that the benefits you'll get from it will outweigh the potential side effects. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are treatments for cancer, that is, the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells to surrounding tissues. If the area receiving radiation in your body includes the ovaries, the radiation dose may cause the ovaries to stop working (infertility) and you may not be able to have children.
Radiation may help relieve problems such as pain, difficulty swallowing or breathing, or intestinal obstructions that can be caused by advanced cancer. Whether a person receives radiation therapy or chemotherapy depends on the type of cancer and how much it has spread. Most types of radiation therapy don't reach all parts of the body, which means they aren't useful for treating cancer that has spread to many parts of the body. Sometimes radiation therapy is the only cancer treatment needed, and sometimes it is used with other types of treatment.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to kill or damage cancer cells. Before treatment, you will be asked to sign a consent form stating that your doctor has explained to you how radiation therapy can help, the possible risks, the type of radiation you should use, and other treatment options. Many people experience fatigue, sensitive skin at the site of radiation exposure, and emotional distress during radiation therapy. Some radiation treatments (systemic radiation therapy) use radioactive substances that are given into a vein or by mouth.
Radiation therapy may make more sense for particular types of cancer that affect smaller areas. Because chemotherapy and radiation damage both healthy and cancer cells, side effects are similar. If the area receiving radiation includes the testicles, the radiation dose may cause the testicles to stop working (infertility) and you may not be able to have children. For example, if the cancer has returned to a part of the body that has already been treated with radiation, it may not be possible to deliver more radiation to the same site.