Radiation therapy uses penetrating beams of high energy radioactive waves or streams of radioactive particles to treat cancer. This treatment kills the cancer cells or keeps them from dividing. Healthy cells are also affected by radiation but healthy cells tend to recover, unlike cancer cells.
Radiation can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, and after surgery to block the growth of any cancer cells that could remain in the area around the tumor.
A radiation oncologist plans the treatment based on the patient's medical history, physical exam, and pathology and laboratory reports. The chest area is marked with ink that ensures that the radiation is given in the correct area.
Side effects vary from person to person and depend on the dose of radiation and the area being treated. The most common side effects include fatigue, skin changes, and loss of appetite. These usually clear up a few weeks after treatment is complete.
Types of Radiation Therapy include:
- external radiation involves a machine that directs the high energy rays at the tumor and a small margin of surrounding tissue.
- internal radiation is provided by a source placed inside the body, such as an implant, injection or a medication.
- IMRT - allows higher doses of radiation because of the precision of the technology. The radiation is focused precisely to the shape and location of the tumor, and the intensity of radiation is controlled. Because of the precision, the tumor receives a higher dose of radiation, while exposure to the surrounding tissue is limited.