(Ionizing Radiation; Radiotherapy; Brachytherapy)
by Editorial Staff And Contributors
Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer and other diseases. It uses high-energy particles to damage the DNA in the cancer cells. This makes the cells unable to grow or divide.
There are two main types of radiation therapy:
In certain cases, your doctor may recommend a combination of these. Radiation is often used with other types of treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy, which stimulates the immune system to fight infection.
This fact sheet will focus on internal radiation therapy.
Reasons for Procedure
This procedure is done to:
Radiation therapy is used to treat solid tumors such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, and head and neck cancers.
Possible Complications TOP
Internal radiation can cause side effects. The radiation damages your own healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. The side effects will vary depending on the type and location of treatment. Common side effects of radiation include, but are not limited, to:
Discuss the specific side effects that you may have with your doctor.
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
A woman who is pregnant or could be pregnant should avoid exposure to radiation. It could harm a developing fetus.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
You may need local anesthesia, which will numb a small area, or general anesthesia, which keeps you asleep during the procedure.
Description of the Procedure
The radiation source will be placed inside your body on or near the affected area. This provides higher doses of radiation in a shorter time. The radioactive sources are in the form of wires, seeds, or rods. This treatment is mostly used for cancers of the head and neck, breast, uterus, thyroid, cervix, and prostate. The two main types of internal radiation are:
How Long Will It Take?
How long it will take depends on the type of cancer treated and the method of internal radiation
Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may be sore when recovering from the procedure depending on where the radioactive material was placed.
Average Hospital Stay
You will stay in the hospital until the implant is removed, or in the case of a permanent implant, when the radioactivity has decreased. High-dosage implants are usually removed within a matter of minutes. Low-dosage implants may stay in for a few days. Permanent implants lose their radioactivity within a few days.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions.
You will return to a hospital room while the implant is in place. While the radiation is implanted, you will follow these precautions to prevent transmitting radiation to others:
During treatment, your doctor will want to see you at least once a week. You may have routine blood tests to check for the effects of radiation on your blood cells.
After treatment is completed, you will have regular visits to monitor healing and to make sure the treatment affected the disease as planned. Follow-up care will vary for each person. Care may include further testing, medicine, or rehabilitative treatment.
Tell your doctor if you experience side effects. Many side effects can be controlled with medicine or diet. The course of your treatment may be changed if the side effects are too great. Most side effects will gradually go away after treatment.
Call Your Doctor TOP
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Cancer Institute
Oncolink, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer Care Ontario
Radiation therapy for cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation . Updated June 30, 2010. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Cancer treatment information. Oncolink, University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center website. Available at: http://www.oncolink.upenn.edu/treatment/ . Accessed May 30, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2013 by Igor Puzanov, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 3/18/2013