Navigate Up

Heart Center - A-Z Index

#
J
Q
X
Z

Print This Page

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-powered x-rays, particles, or radioactive seeds to kill cancer cells.

Alternative Names

Radiotherapy

Information

Cancer cells multiply faster than normal cells in the body. Because radiation is most harmful to quickly growing cells, radiation therapy damages cancer cells more than normal cells. This prevents the cancer cells from growing and dividing, and leads to cell death.

Radiation therapy is used to fight many types of cancer . Sometimes, radiation is the only treatment needed. It may also be used to:

  • Shrink a tumor as much as possible before surgery
  • Help prevent the cancer from coming back after surgery or chemotherapy
  • Relieve symptoms caused by a tumor
  • Treat cancers that cannot be removed with surgery

TYPES OF RADIATION THERAPY

External beam radiation is the most common form. This method carefully aims high-powered x-rays or particles directly at the tumor from outside of the body.

Internal beam radiation is placed inside of your body.

  • One method uses radioactive seeds that are placed directly into or near the tumor. This method is called brachytherapy, and is used to treat prostate cancer . It is used less often to treat breast, cervical, lung, and other cancers.
  • Another method involves receiving radiation by drinking it, swallowing a pill, or through an IV. Liquid radiation travels throughout your body, seeking out and killing cancer cells. Thyroid cancer may be treated this way.

SIDE EFFECTS OF RADIATION THERAPY

Radiation therapy can also damage or kill healthy cells. The death of healthy cells can lead to side effects.

These side effects depend on the dose of radiation, and how often you have the therapy. External beam radiation may cause skin changes, such as hair loss, red or burning skin, thinning of skin tissue, or even shedding of the outer layer of skin.

Other side effects depend on the part of body receiving radiation:

References

Zemen EM, Schreiber EC, Tepper JE. Basics of radiation therapy. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 27.

National Cancer Institute. Radiation therapy and you: support for people who have cancer. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/radiation-therapy-and-you. Accessed May 29, 2014.

Updated: 5/29/2014

Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


¬©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com