Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy (also called therapeutic radiology or radiation oncology) uses special kinds of energy waves or particles to fight cancer and sometimes non-cancerous diseases. Like surgery, radiation therapy is used in several ways depending on the type and location of the cancer. Certain levels of radiation work to destroy cancer cells or prevent normal or cancer cells from growing or reproducing. This treatment may provide a cure for cancer or non-cancerous diseases, control of disease, or relief of its symptoms.

Radiation therapy usually begins with these procedures:

What are the different types of radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is given through different methods, depending on the type of disease, its location, and your general health. Often, radiation therapy is used in combination with other treatments. The following are some of the different types of radiation therapy with brief explanations of their goals:

What are the most common risks and potential side effects of radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is a painless cancer treatment, though it can cause irritation and inflammation in the tissues and organs in the path of the radiation beam. Radiation therapy may damage normal cells, in addition to the cancerous cells. This damage to the normal cells may cause side effects, which will be monitored and treated by your radiation oncologist.

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your radiation oncologist any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins. These will be reviewed with you individually, and you will be asked to acknowledge these and sign a consent form before treatment is initiated. Consider some of the following potential side effects of radiation therapy:

Promising new therapies involving radiation therapy

Many new radiation techniques are being used and studied to find more effective treatments for cancer. Some of the more promising therapies are described below.

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: