Radiation and radioactivity were discovered over 100 years ago. Since then doctors have looked for ways to use radiation to treat cancer. Advances in technology and a better understanding of its effects on the body have made radiation therapy an important part of cancer treatment today. In fact, about half of all people with cancer will get radiation as part of their cancer treatment.
Radiation therapy attacks cancer cells that are dividing. Radiation used for cancer treatment is called ionizing radiation because it forms ions in the cells of the tissues it passes through as it dislodges electrons from atoms. Radiation is considered a local treatment because only cells in and around the cancer are affected.
There are several ways radiation therapy can be delivered, such as external beam radiation, internal beam radiation, and radiopharmaceuticals. During your radiation therapy, you will be cared for by a team of medical professionals.
People who get any type of radiation therapy are often worried about whether the radiation poses a risk to themselves or to others around them. The early effects of radiation may be seen a few days or weeks after treatments have started and may continue for several weeks after treatments have ended. Other effects may not show up until months, or even years, later. Ask your oncologist what to expect and how you can minimize common side effects.