When Should I See My Radiation Care Provider
Your radiation care provider should know about any side effects youre experiencing, especially those that interfere with your quality of life. Depending on your treatment response, your provider may need to adjust your dosage, change your treatment schedule or try a different type of treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you have cancer and radiation therapy is one way to treat it, dont hesitate to ask for specifics. Various forms of radiation therapy exist that can target specific cancers and tumor types. They allow radiation oncologists to deliver precise doses of radiation that can kill cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue. Ask how a particular form of radiotherapy will work to target the tumor while minimizing harmful radiation exposure.
Possible Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy
If you’re going to get radiation therapy, its important to ask your doctor about the possible short- and long-term side effects so that you know what to expect. Possible side effects of radiation therapy for colon and rectal cancer can include:
- Skin irritation at the site where radiation beams were aimed, which can range from redness to blistering and peeling
- Problems with wound healing if radiation was given before surgery
- Rectal irritation, which can cause diarrhea, painful bowel movements, or blood in the stool
- Bowel incontinence
- Bladder irritation, which can cause problems like feeling like you have to go often , burning or pain while urinating, or blood in the urine
- Sexual problems
- Scarring, fibrosis , and adhesions that cause the tissues in the treated area to stick to each other
Most side effects should get better over time after treatment ends, but some problems may not go away completely. If you notice any side effects, talk to your doctor right away so steps can be taken to reduce or relieve them.
How Is Radiation Therapy Given
Radiation therapy can be given in 3 ways:
- External radiation : uses a machine that directs high-energy rays from outside the body into the tumor. Its done during outpatient visits to a hospital or treatment center. It’s usually given over many weeks and sometimes will be given twice a day for several weeks. A person receiving external radiation is not radioactive and does not have to follow special safety precautions at home.
- Internal radiation: Internal radiation is also called brachytherapy. A radioactive source is put inside the body into or near the tumor. With some types of brachytherapy, radiation might be placed and left in the body to work. Sometimes it is placed in the body for a period of time and then removed. This is decided based on the type of cancer. Special safety precautions are needed for this type of radiation for a period of time. But it’s important to know if the internal radiation is left in the body, after a while it eventually is no longer radioactive.
- Systemic radiation: Radioactive drugs given by mouth or put into a vein are used to treat certain types of cancer. These drugs then travel throughout the body. You might have to follow special precautions at home for a period of time after these drugs are given.
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What Are The Different Kinds Of Radiation
The goal of radiation therapy is to get enough radiation into the body to kill the cancer cells while preventing damage to healthy tissue. There are several ways to do this. Depending on the location, size and type of cancer, you may receive one or a combination of techniques. Your treatment team will help you to decide which treatments are best for you. Radiation therapy can be delivered in two ways, externally and internally. During external beam radiation therapy, the radiation oncology team uses a machine to direct high-energy X-rays at the cancer. Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, involves placing radioactive sources inside your body.
If Youre Having Radiation Therapy To The Pelvis
Radiation therapy to the pelvis can cause side effects such as:
- Bladder problems
- Fertility problems
- Changes in your sex life
You might also have some of the same problems people get from radiation to the abdomen, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
Radiation to the pelvis can cause problems with urination, including:
- Pain or burning sensations
- Blood in the urine
- An urge to urinate often
Most of these problems get better over time, but radiation therapy can cause longer-term side effects as well:
- Radiation cystitis. If the radiation damages the lining of the bladder, radiation cystitis can be a long-term problem that causes blood in the urine or pain when passing urine.
- Urinary incontinence. Radiation treatments for certain cancers, such as prostate and bladder cancer, may make you unable to control your urine or have leakage or dribbling. There are different types and degrees of incontinence, but it can be treated. Even if incontinence cant be corrected completely, it can still be helped. See Bladder and Bowel Incontinence to learn more. This side effect is most often a problem for men being treated for prostate cancer, but some of the information might also be helpful for women dealing with treatment-related incontinence.
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What Are The Risks Or Complications Of This Treatment
Although radiation therapy effectively treats many types of cancer, it may also increase your likelihood of developing a different cancer in the future. For many people, the benefits of radiation therapy are worth the risk.
Weigh the benefits of treatment against potential risks with your radiation oncologist.
How Radiation Treatment Works
Radiation treatment destroys cancer cells that are dividing. It also affects normal tissue cells, which is what causes side effects.
For each person receiving radiation treatment, a decision is made about how much treatment to give without causing too much damage to normal tissue.
Normal cells can repair themselves after this damage, but cancer cells cannot.
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Radiation For Colon Cancer
It’s not common to use radiation therapy to treat colon cancer, but it may be used in certain cases:
- Before surgery to help shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove.
- After surgery, if the cancer has attached to an internal organ or the lining of the belly . If this happens, the surgeon cant be sure that all of the cancer has been removed. Radiation therapy may be used to try to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind.
- During surgery, right to the area where the cancer was, to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind. This is called intraoperative radiation therapy or IORT.
- Along with chemo to help control cancer if a person is not healthy enough for surgery.
- To ease symptoms if advanced colon cancer is causing intestinal blockage, bleeding, or pain.
- To help treat colon cancer that has spread to other areas, such as the bones, lungs, or brain.
How Does Radiation Therapy Work
Radiation therapy uses special high-energy X-rays or particles to damage a cancer cells DNA. When a cancer cells DNA is damaged, it cant divide successfully and it dies.
Radiation therapy damages both healthy cells and cancer cells in the treatment area. Still, radiation affects cancer cells more than normal cells. Cancer cells grow and divide faster than healthy cells and also are less organized. Because of this, it’s harder for cancer cells to repair the damage done by radiation. So cancer cells are more easily destroyed by radiation, while healthy cells are better able to repair themselves and survive the treatment.
The treatment area may include the breast area, the lymph nodes, or another part of the body if the cancer has spread.
Radiation treatments are carefully planned to make sure you receive the greatest benefits and the fewest side effects possible.
There are two main types of radiation therapy used to treat breast cancer:
External beam radiation is given by a large machine called a linear accelerator. The machine aims a beam of radiation at the treatment area.
Internal radiation, called brachytherapy by doctors, uses a radioactive substance sealed in seeds or tiny tubes that are placed inside your body directly into the cancer or the place where the cancer was.
Your doctor will look at your pathology report and calculate your risk of breast cancer recurrence based on a number of factors, including:
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If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Chest
Radiation treatment to the chest may cause side effects such as:
Radiation can also cause other problems in the heart or lungs.
Getting radiation to the middle portion of the chest can raise your risk of heart disease. This risk increases with higher radiation doses and larger treatment areas in this part of your body. Radiation can also cause hardening of the arteries , heart valve damage, or irregular heartbeats.
Radiation pneumonitis is inflammation of the lungs that can be caused by radiation treatment to the chest . It may occur about 3 to 6 months after getting radiation therapy. Its more likely if you have other lung diseases, like emphysema . Common symptoms of radiation pneumonitis include:
- Shortness of breath that usually gets worse with exercise
- Chest pain, which is often worse when taking in a deep breath
Sometimes there are no symptoms, and radiation pneumonitis is found on a chest x-ray.
Symptoms often go away on their own, but if treatment is needed, it is based on trying to decrease the inflammation. Steroids, like prednisone, are usually used. With treatment, most people recover without any lasting effects. But if it persists, it can lead to pulmonary fibrosis . When this happens, the lungs can no longer fully inflate and take in air.
Be sure you understand what to look for, and tell your cancer care team if you notice any of these side effects.
When Is Radiation Treatment Used
Radiation treatment can be used to:
- cure cancers, often in addition to other treatment
- to shrink a tumour so that surgery is more effective
- to treat any cancer cells remaining after surgery
- to slow the growth of cancer or relieve symptoms
Your treatment team will offer the best treatment for you based on the type and stage of cancer as well as your general health.
This means you may have different treatments from someone else, even if their cancer type is the same type as yours.
Before any treatment begins, make sure that you have discussed and understood your treatment team’s advice. You may ask for a second opinion if you want one.
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Why Does Radiation Therapy Cause Side Effects
In this type of treatment, high doses of radiation therapy are used to destroy cancer cells. Side effects come from damage to healthy cells and tissues near the treatment area.
There have been major research advances in radiation therapy over recent years that have made it more precise. This has reduced this treatment’s side effects compared to radiation therapy techniques used in the past.
Some people experience few or no side effects from radiation therapy. Other people experience more severe side effects. Reactions to radiation therapy often start during the second or third week of treatment. Or, they may last for several weeks after the final treatment. Some side effects may be long term. Talk with your treatment team about what you can expect.
Early And Late Effects Of Radiation Therapy
- Early side effects happen during or shortly after treatment. These side effects tend to be short-term, mild, and treatable. Theyre usually gone within a few weeks after treatment ends. The most common early side effects are fatigue and skin changes. Other early side effects usually are related to the area being treated, such as hair loss and mouth problems when radiation treatment is given to this area.
- Late side effects can take months or even years to develop. They can occur in any normal tissue in the body that has received radiation. The risk of late side effects depends on the area treated as well as the radiation dose that was used. Careful treatment planning can help avoid serious long-term side effects. Its always best to talk to your radiation oncologist about the risk of long-term side effects.
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Expert Review And References
- American Cancer Society. A Guide to Radiation Therapy. 2015.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology. What to Expect When Having Radiation Therapy. 2016.
- BC Cancer Agency. Radiation Therapy. BC Cancer Agency 2017.
- Radiotherapy. Cancer Research UK. CancerHelp UK. Cancer Research UK 2009.
- Kun, L. E. General principles of radiation oncology. Pizzo, P. A. & Poplack, D. G. . Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2011: 13: pp. 406-425.
- National Cancer Institute. FactSheet: Radiation Therapy for Cancer. Bethseda, MD: National Cancer Institute 2010.
- Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Your Radiation Therapy at the Princess Margaret Hospital. 2011.
- Radiological Society of North America. Introduction to Cancer Therapy . 2015.
- Radiological Society of North America. Professions in Radiation Therapy. 2015.
What Are The Types Of Radiation Therapy
- External radiation therapy
- External radiation therapy is given from a special machine . The patient never becomes radioactive.
- Internal radiation therapy
- Internal radiation therapy is when the source of radiation is placed inside the body near the cancer cells. The length of time the implant is in place depends upon the type of implant received.
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Quit Smoking Before Laryngeal And Hypopharyngeal Cancer Treatment
If you smoke, you should quit. Your cancer might not shrink as well if you smoke during radiation treatment, you might have more side effects, and your benefit from radiation treatment might be less . Smoking after treatment can also increase the chance of getting another new cancer. Quitting smoking for good is the best way to improve your chances of survival. It is never too late to quit. For help, see How To Quit Using Tobacco.
What Is Radiation Recall
Radiation recall is a rash that looks like a severe sunburn. It is rare but it can happen when certain types of chemotherapy are given during or soon after external-beam radiation therapy.
The rash appears on the part of the body that received radiation therapy. Symptoms may include redness, tenderness, swelling, wet sores, and peeling skin.
Typically, these effects start within days or weeks of starting radiation therapy. But they can also appear months or years later. Doctors treat radiation recall with medications called corticosteroids. Rarely, it may be necessary to wait until the skin heals to continue with chemotherapy.
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What Are Clinical Trials
Cancer specialists regularly conduct studies to test new treatments. These studies are called clinical trials. Clinical trials are available through cancer doctors everywhere- not just in major cities or in large hospitals.
Some clinical studies try to determine if a therapeutic approach is safe and potentially effective. Many large clinical trials compare the more commonly used treatment with a treatment that cancer experts think might be better. Patients who participate in clinical trials help doctors and future cancer patients find out whether a promising treatment is safe and effective. All patients who participate in clinical trials are carefully monitored to make sure they are getting quality care. It is important to remember that clinical trials are completely voluntary. Patients can leave a trial at any time. Clinical trials testing new treatments are carried out in phases:
Only you can make the decision about whether or not to participate in a clinical trial. Before making your decision, it is important to learn as much as possible about your cancer and the clinical trials that may be available to you. Your radiation oncologist can answer many of your questions if you are considering taking part in a trial or contact the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER or www.cancer.gov.
How Long Do Side Effects Last
Remember that the type of radiation side effects you might have depends on the prescribed dose and schedule. Most side effects go away within a few months of ending treatment. Some side effects may continue after treatment ends because it takes time for the healthy cells to recover from radiation.
Side effects might limit your ability to do some things. What you can do will depend on how you feel. Some patients are able to go to work or enjoy leisure activities while they get radiation therapy. Others find they need more rest than usual and cant do as much. If you have side effects that are bothersome and affecting your daily activities or health, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while, change the schedule, or change the type of treatment youre getting. Tell your cancer care team about any side affects you notice so they can help you with them.
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Why Is Radiation Therapy Given
Radiation therapy may aim to:
- cure – some cancers can be cured by radiation therapy alone or combined with other treatments.
- control – radiation therapy can control some cancers by making them smaller or stopping them from spreading.
- help other treatments – radiation therapy can be used before or after other treatments to make them more effective.
- relieve symptoms – if cure is not possible, radiation therapy may be used to reduce cancer symptoms and prolong a good quality of life.
Mouth Sores And Problems Swallowing
Many people treated with radiation to the neck and throat area have painful sores in the mouth and throat that can make it very hard to eat and drink. This can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. The sores heal with time after the radiation ends, but some people might continue to have problems swallowing long after treatment ends.
Ask your speech pathologist about swallowing exercises you can do to help keep those muscles working and increase your chance of eating normally after treatment.
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