Radiation Treatment for Cancer

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Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles to try to get rid of the cancer in your body. Over half of cancer patients get radiation treatment for cancer.

How Radiation Works

Radiation breaks up the DNA inside cancer cells. This destroys or damages cancer cells, or keeps them from growing. It can affect your normal cells, which can lead to side effects.

We can use radiation in combination with other cancer treatments. You may get radiation before, during, or after surgery.

Types of Radiation Treatment for Cancer

The amount and type of radiation you get will depend on a variety of factors:

  • Cancer type
  • Stage of cancer
  • Your overall health

We use CT scans, MRIs, and/or PET/CT scan images to locate cancer tissue. We use these scans to plan your unique radiation treatment.

External Radiation

External radiation targets tumors from outside your body. We direct high-energy beams into your body to your cancer.

You will not feel any pain from the actual radiation treatment.

The treatment:

  • Takes 5-30 minutes
  • Usually takes several weeks
  • Sometimes, you’ll get treatment twice a day

Internal Radiation

Internal radiation (brachytherapy) puts radioactive material inside your body. We place the radioactive material as close as possible to the cancer cells. This method concentrates radiation in a powerful way while saving healthy tissue.

We’ll insert the implants either in a body cavity or at the tumor location. They’ll release radiation over time.

The implants might stay in or get removed.

Specialized Radiation Treatment for Cancer at UVA

At UVA, we have radiation technology you won't find everywhere. These therapies target specific types of cancer and locations in your body, including:

To make sure we’ve accurately treated cancer, we use advanced CT or X-ray scans.

Radiation Side Effects

Radiation can affect healthy tissue in your body. To lessen this impact, we divide treatment into smaller doses over time.

Some radiation side effects are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased taste
  • Fatigue
  • Skin irritation
  • Hair loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood cell counts

Learn how to manage cancer treatment side effects.

Radiation Safety

Talk to your doctor about fertility and issues of radiation safety. This depends on the type and amount of radiation you received.