Overview

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is the use of various forms of radiation to safely and effectively treat cancer and other diseases. Radiation oncologists may use radiation to cure cancer, to control the growth of the cancer or to relieve symptoms such as pain.

Sometimes radiation therapy is the only treatment a patient needs. At other times, it is only one part of a patient’s treatment. For example, early-stage prostate and larynx cancers are often treated with radiation alone, while a woman with breast cancer may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Radiation may also be used to make your primary treatment more effective. For example, you can be treated with radiation therapy before surgery to help shrink the cancer, or you may be treated with radiation after surgery to destroy small amounts of cancer that may have been left behind.

Sometimes, the overall goal is to slow down the cancer as much as possible. In other cases, the goal is to reduce the symptoms caused by growing tumors which can improve your quality of life. When radiation therapy is administered for this purpose, it is called palliative radiation or palliation. In this instance, radiation may be used to shrink tumors to relieve pain by reducing the size of a tumor to improve function.