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Overview of radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is one of the 3 main treatment modalities available to treat cancer viz. surgery chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It makes use of x-rays or radiation beams that can be focused on cancer tissues.

These beams cause death of the cancer cells leading to shrinkage and disappearance of the cancer growth and prevent the cancer from recurring. In contrast to chemotherapy, radiation therapy is a localised treatment and does not influence any disease that may be present outside of the radiation field.

Typically a course of radiation therapy is given on a daily basis Monday to Friday over a protracted period of time. Normally 6 weeks of treatment are recommended but this is highly individualised and your doctor will decide on exactly how many treatments you will need.

Giving the treatment over a protracted period allows the body and normal tissues to heal while delivering as high a dose as possible to the cancer without causing severe side effects of treatment. These side effects are dependent on the area of the body treated.

Most people tolerate the treatment well and are able to continue with their normal daily activities while receiving a course of radiation.

The most common side effects are generalised fatigue of varying severity and skin reactions that are similar to sunburn and are easily treated. Your oncologist will explain any other side effects that may occur that are peculiar to your treatment.