Cancer cells usually multiply faster than other cells in the body, which sometimes is the reason why undetected cancer can spread so rapidly. Because radiation is most harmful to rapidly growing cells, radiation therapy is effective in damaging cancer cells more than normal cells.
Specifically, radiation therapy damages the DNA of cancer cells, which prevents the cancer cells from growing and dividing. Unfortunately, certain healthy cells can also be killed by this process. The death of these healthy cells can lead to side effects such as hair loss or skin changes.
Radiation therapy is used to fight many types of cancer. It is often used to shrink a tumor as much as possible before surgery. Radiation can also be incorporated after surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back.
For certain types of cancer, radiation therapy is the only type of treatment needed, while other types of cancer are treated with a combination approach. Radiation may also be used to provide temporary relief of symptoms, or to treat malignancies (cancers) that cannot be removed with surgery.
There are two forms of radiation therapy:
- External beam radiation, the most common form, carefully aims high powered x-rays directly at the tumor from outside of the body.
- Brachytherapy uses Radioactive Seeds that are placed directly into or near the tumor.