Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer. It can be used in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy, and in some cases, it can be the sole treatment for certain types of cancer.
“Depending on the type of cancer, we may use radiation therapy at the beginning or end of your cancer treatment,” says Benjamin D. Goodman, DO, radiation oncologist, Saint Francis Medical Partner. “It works by making breaks to the DNA inside cancer cells to stop them from dividing and growing. Sometimes, we will use it to shrink a tumor before surgery, and in other cases, we will use it to make sure all the cancer cells are destroyed at the end of treatment.”
External radiation therapy uses a machine to deliver high-energy waves to the area of the cancer. Physicians use precise instruments to direct the radiation to the exact area of the tumor so there is very minimal damage to surrounding tissues.
Some people may experience minimal side effects. Others can suffer moderate to severe side effects, including:
- Skin problems such as redness, swelling or blistering
- Hair loss in the area that is being treated (this only becomes a problem for cancers of the head)
- Eating and digestion problems caused by cancers of the head and neck
“Your doctor will present all the facts so you can decide together whether the benefits outweigh the potential side effects and risks,” says Goodman. “There are limits to the amount of radiation you can receive in a specific area over your lifetime, which is why it is important that you share your medical history. We want to determine the safest, most efficient way to treat your cancer.”
For more information, call 573-331-3000 or visit the Saint Francis Cancer Institute webpage.