What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is one kind of cancer treatment. Therapies direct high-energy beams like X-rays at masses of cancer cells (called tumors), destroying them.
There are many types of radiation therapies, each working in slightly different ways. Our experts use advanced therapies and their specialized expertise to offer you the best course of treatment for your needs.
How does radiation therapy work?
When a radiation beam hits a cancer cell, the energy damages a cancer cell’s DNA. If a cancer cell can no longer multiply or spread, it no longer poses a threat to your health.
For most types of radiation therapy, called external beam radiation therapy, we direct energy beams at a tumor from outside your body. These energy beams come from a powerful machine called a linear accelerator.
For internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy, doctors carefully place tiny devices inside your body, near or in a tumor. Doctors use these devices to deliver radiation to a tumor.
Ongoing radiation therapy advances, such as computer technology and advanced imaging, allow specialists to shape radiation beams to the precise size and shape of a tumor. This increased precision delivers higher radiation doses to cancer cells while protecting nearby healthy tissue.
The result: We can more easily treat cancer while helping reduce the side effects of radiation therapy.
What should I know about the radiation oncology program at Mays Cancer Center?
As the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center in Central and South Texas, our doctors follow research-based best practices in cancer care. We use advanced radiation therapies to treat many types of cancer in children and adults.
Our team offers a high level of expertise in radiation oncology. We participate in national and local clinical trials that pursue the future of radiation therapies today. Ask your doctor how an ongoing research trial helps improve care for eligible patients.
How do I know if radiation therapy is right for me?
Radiation therapies treat cancer in different ways. Not all cancers react the same way to radiation exposure. Our radiation oncologists have decades of experience using complex therapies to treat many cancer types.
Your doctor will consider many factors when deciding whether radiation therapy might benefit you, including:
- Tumor size and shape
- Cancer type and makeup
- Tumor location
- Whether or how far cancer has spread
- Your overall health
Our radiation oncologists meet regularly with each other and with other cancer doctors to discuss the details of your care. This close collaboration helps us refine your treatment plan to fit your unique needs.
You can trust our team to consider leading science and cancer advances and recommend treatments that fit your unique needs. Read more about our radiation oncology program.
What are common side effects of radiation therapy?
How you react to a radiation therapy will be unique to you. Some people notice few or no side effects after radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy side effects often depend on what part of the body treatment affects and how. Our radiation oncologists are leaders in their field, pioneering major advances. With improved precision, many people experience fewer side effects after radiation therapy.
While they are receiving radiation treatment, some people experience varying degrees of:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Skin irritation or redness near the treated area
Your care team will explain what you can expect in the hours and days after radiation therapy. We have many support services available to help alleviate discomfort that you feel and make cancer treatment easier on you.
Like any cancer treatment, radiation therapy might have effects that show up months or years after treatment ends. Ask your doctor how radiation therapy could affect your long-term health.
Read more about our supportive cancer care clinic.
Will radiation stay in my body after treatment ends?
Our therapies leave no radiation in your body after a treatment session.
When you leave our center, you do not need to change your normal routines or limit contact with loved ones due to your treatment. You can feel confident that the radioactive materials we used pose no risk to others.
How long does radiation treatment take?
The length of each treatment session and how many treatments you need will depend on your personalized care plan.
Some radiation therapies require you to come in five days a week for several weeks. Other treatments (like stereotactic radiosurgery) can destroy certain brain tumors in one session.
Your care team will explain how long you should expect to be at each treatment session. Our team will do what they can to make treatment more convenient for you.