Your cancer

Living with the disease

Radiation Therapy

What is it ?

Radiation therapy (often abbreviated as RT, RTx, or XRT and sometimes referred to as Radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment which uses ionizing radiation to damage the DNA of tumor cells. Like surgery, radiation therapy’s effect is limited to the specific location of the tumor cells, and it may be combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy.

How it works

Treatment preparation is complex, highly technical and must be prepared well in advance by the oncologist, radiologist and medical physicists. It is highly specialized to the patient’s medical indication and specific organ (e.g., type/dose of radiation and number of sessions).

Before treatment, the patient will undergo a centering CT-scan to determine the tumor’s exact location and mass. Dosage is calculated by computer simulation in order to minimize the effect of the radiation on the patient’s healthy tissue and organs.

The first session will include an implementation procedure, ensuring absolute accuracy for all future treatments, which involves the use of identification methods (e.g., felt-tip markings or tattoos) and positioning tools (e.g., face mask, blocking materials).

Most often, the treatment is administered over five 10-minute sessions per week. The radiation itself is invisible, odorless, and painless.

Specific subtypes of radiation therapy include:

- Brachytherapy the radioactive source is transiently implanted in the tumor itself.
- Stereotaxic radiation therapy a high dosage, highly focused radiation therapy reserved for small lesions. Typically, fewer sessions are necessary, but the duration is longer (e.g., approximately 45 minutes).

Side Effects

Adverse effects of radiation therapy are usually limited to the treated area.

Most side effects are acute, appearing after about a week of treatment and lasting a few days to a few weeks after radiation therapy has been completed.

The most common side effect is radiodermatitis (similar to sunburn), but this is dependent on the specific organ being treated.

More rarely, some side effects can become chronic or appear later

To prevent and/or manage these side effects effectively,

Radiotherapy technicians will ask you questions prior to/during treatment
You should be seen by an oncology-radiation therapist at least once a week. In some cases, it may be necessary to postpone or stop treatment.

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Indications

Radiation therapy can be used at different stages:

As a curative treatment

Radiation therapy can destroy the tumor on its own (e.g., with lung cancer), or in combination with chemotherapy (e.g., with cervical cancer).

As adjuvant treatment

Combined with radical local treatment (e.g., surgery) to reduce the risk of recurrence, for example after a lumpectomy.

As palliative treatment

In advanced stages to treat painful tumor lesions (bone metastases or lymph nodes).

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