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What are the uses and side effects of radiation therapy?

What are the uses and side effects of radiation therapy?

14:51 8th June 2018 | Cancer

Radiation therapy

What are the Uses and Side Effects of Radiation Therapy?

‘Radiation’ refers to waves of energy. In cancer treatment, it is used to shrink tumours and kill cancer cells. Essentially the energy waves interfere with cancer cells by either slowing growth, killing cells or shrinking tumours to make surgery possible. Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, can also be used for non-cancerous diseases.

Uses of Radiation Therapy

Depending on the type of cancer and the affected area, radiation therapy can be (a) used on its own, to target a specific area or tumour, (b) used alongside surgical treatments, to shrink a tumour or target possible remaining cancer cells or (c) combined with chemotherapy, to enhance the treatment and/or reduce the need for surgery. For some tumours or rare cancers (sarcomas), all three treatments are introduced. 

Radiation therapy can also be used to treat blood disorders, noncancerous growths (benign tumours) and some inflammatory conditions.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

The type and dose of radiation as well as the general health of the person who receives treatment influence side effects. The most common side effects of radiation therapy are hair loss on the treated body part and fatigue. It is not uncommon for skin to become dry, itchy, peel and blister.

The specific area that requires treatment also plays a role in possible side effects a person may experience because the surrounding healthy tissue is unfortunately also exposed. Additional side effects can include swelling, a dry mouth, mouth sores, a sore throat, trouble swallowing, ear aches, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, painful urination, urinary urgency and sexual dysfunction.

Radiation Therapy and Fertility

Radiation therapy can lead to fertility problems. Eggs, sperm & embryos can be affected following radiotherapy. Fortunately these eggs, sperm and embryos can be frozen for future use (cryopreservation) before starting radiation therapy or chemotherapy.


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