Is radiation treatment painful?
Radiation therapy is the term for treatment types that use radiation to destroy or shrink cancer cells and tumors.
The two main types of radiation therapy for treating cancer are external beam radiation and internal radiation therapy.
What to know about radiation therapy
The type of radiation that a doctor recommends will depend on the type of cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and the person’s general health.
Radiation therapy may help meet different treatment goals. For instance, it may enhance the effectiveness of surgery, help prevent the spread of cancer, or relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.
This article discusses the different types of radiation therapy, including how they work and the side effects and risks. It also explains what a person can expect from radiation therapy and the likely outcome.
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that more than half of people with cancer receive radiation therapy.
Radiation damages genetic material called DNA inside of cancer cells. If the cancer cell cannot repair the DNA, the cell will not be able to produce new cells and may die.
The radiation may injure noncancerous cells, but most are able to recover, according to the ACS.
A person’s treatment team will carefully plan radiation therapy to minimize damage to normal tissues and organs.
Types of radiation therapy
There are two broad types of radiation therapy that doctors use to treat cancers: internal and external.
External beam radiation
External beam radiation is the most common type of radiation treatment for cancer.
External means that the energy beams come from a machine outside of the body. A healthcare professional precisely aims the beams, which penetrate the body to reach the cancer site.
Another name for external beam radiation is teletherapy.
Internal radiation therapy
The second main type of radiation treatment is internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy.
During this treatment, a doctor places an implant containing radiation in or near the cancer site.
The implants come in different shapes, which include:
Systemic radiation therapy
Systemic radiation therapy is another kind of internal radiation therapy.
It requires a person to swallow a radioactive substance, which travels throughout the body to find and kill the cancerous cells.
Alternatively, a healthcare professional may inject the radioactive substance into a person’s vein.