Your Guide to Radiation Treatment for Cancer

How is Radiation Used to Fight Cancer?


Photon hitting a cancer cell

Radiation treatment uses focused X-rays, which is a form of energy, to destroy cancerous cells while minimizing exposure to healthy tissue. Radiation damages the DNA in cancer cells, which interrupts their ability to reproduce, causing them to die and the tumor to shrink. Most normal cells, however, have the ability to repair themselves and can more easily recover from the radiation. If normal cells near the tumor area are exposed to the radiation, it can lead to some side effects.

Side effects vary from patient to patient. Many side effects can be cumulative, which is to say they develop over the course of treatment as the radiation accumulates in the tumor. They can be minor or severe, depending on the size and location of the tumor and your general medical condition. Two of the most common side effects of radiation treatments are irritation or damage to the skin near the treatment site, and fatigue. Serious side effects are treatment site specific and can include diarrhea, nausea, swelling at the treatment site, lymphedema and secondary cancer. Your treatment team will help you manage any side effects you may experience.