Radiation Therapy -- External
(Ionizing Radiation; Radiotherapy)
- External—radiation is delivered by a machine that shoots particles at the cells from outside the body
- Internal —radioactive materials are placed in the body near the cancer cells (also called implant radiation or brachytherapy)
Reasons for Procedure
- Control the growth or spread of cancer
- Attempt to cure cancer
- Reduce pain or other symptoms caused by cancer (This is called palliative radiation.)
- Skin changes (redness, irritation)
- Reduced white blood cell count
- Hair loss
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Appetite loss
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
- You will lie on an exam table. A radiation therapist uses a CT scan to define the exact place(s) where radiation will be directed. They may mark the exact area on your skin with colored ink. You may also have a small tattoo (or several) placed on your skin. This is as a permanent mark to help aim the radiation beam.
- Depending on the type of treatment required, you may also be measured for devices like braces that will help you stay still during treatment.
Description of the Procedure
|External Radiation of a Tumor|
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How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
Average Hospital Stay
Call Your Doctor
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Diarrhea or loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent urination, particularly if it is associated with pain or burning sensation
- New or unusual swelling or lumps
- Nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medicines you were given
- Pain that does not go away
- Unusual changes in skin, including bruises, rashes, discharge, or bleeding
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Any other symptom your nurse or doctor told you to look for
- Any new symptoms
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
Oncolink, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania http://www.oncolink.upenn.edu
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
Cancer Care Ontario http://www.cancercare.on.ca
Cancer treatment information. Oncolink, University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center website. Available at: http://www.oncolink.upenn.edu/treatment . Accessed June 17, 2008.
Definition of radiation therapy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/Templates/db%5Falpha.aspx?CdrID=44971 . Accessed June 17, 2008.
Radiation therapy fact sheets. CancerNet, National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov . Accessed June 17, 2008.
Radiation therapy for cancer: questions and answers. National Cancer Institute website. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation . Accessed September 29, 2009.
- Reviewer: Igor Puzanov, MD
- Review Date: 09/2012 -
- Update Date: 03/18/2013 -