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What to know about radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the term for treatment types that use radiation to destroy or shrink cancer cells and tumors.

The two main types of radiation therapy for treating cancer are external beam radiation and internal radiation therapy.

The type of radiation that a doctor recommends will depend on the type of cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and the person’s general health.

Radiation therapy may help meet different treatment goals. For instance, it may enhance the effectiveness of surgery, help prevent the spread of cancer, or relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.

This article discusses the different types of radiation therapy, including how they work and the side effects and risks. It also explains what a person can expect from radiation therapy and the likely outcome.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.

The American Cancer Society (ACS)Trusted Source notes that more than half of people with cancer receive radiation therapy.

Radiation damages genetic material called DNA inside of cancer cells. If the cancer cell cannot repair the DNA, the cell will not be able to produce new cells and may die.

The radiation may injure noncancerous cells, but most are able to recover, according to the ACSTrusted Source.

A person’s treatment team will carefully plan radiation therapy to minimize damage to normal tissues and organs.

Types of radiation therapy

There are two broad types of radiation therapy that doctors use to treat cancers: internal and external.

External beam radiation

External beam radiation is the most commonTrusted Source type of radiation treatment for cancer.

External means that the energy beams come from a machine outside of the body. A healthcare professional precisely aims the beams, which penetrate the body to reach the cancer site.

Another name for external beam radiation is teletherapy.

Internal radiation therapy

The second main type of radiation treatment is internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy.

During this treatment, a doctor places an implant containing radiation in or near the cancer site.

The implants come in different shapes, which includeTrusted Source:






Systemic radiation therapy

Systemic radiation therapy is another kind of internal radiation therapy.

It requires a person to swallow a radioactive substance, which travels throughout the body to find and kill the cancerous cells.

Alternatively, a healthcare professional may inject the radioactive substance into a person’s vein.

How it works

External beam radiation and brachytherapy work similarly. Both are local therapies that work on one part of the body, directing high energy beams at cancer cells to destroy them.

However, the two therapies differ in the source of the radiation.

In brachytherapy, the radiation comes from an implant that a doctor places near or in a tumor. In external beam radiation, the radiation comes from a machine outside of the body.

Why people receive radiation therapy

A doctor may recommend radiation therapy for several purposes. These includeTrusted Source:

reducing or curing early stage cancer

stopping cancer from spreading to another part of the body

treating cancer that has returned

relieving symptoms of advanced cancer.

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