Radiotherapy is?


Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is a medical procedure for treating cancer. The goal of radiotherapy is to kill cancer cells, stop the growth and spread of cancer cells, and prevent the recurrence of cancer.

Radiotherapy can be given through exposure to X-rays, implantation of implants in the body, as well as through drinking and injecting drugs. To obtain maximum results, radiotherapy is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy and surgical removal of cancer.

Keep in mind, that although it can eradicate and inhibit the growth of cancer cells, radiotherapy can also damage healthy cells. However, these side effects are generally not permanent. To minimize these side effects, radiotherapy needs to be done carefully and only on areas of the body affected by cancer.

Radiotherapy is generally done to treat cancer in the head and neck, breast, cervix, prostate, thyroid, or eye.

  • Indications For Radiotherapy
  • The doctor will consider radiotherapy measures with the following objectives:
  • Relieves symptoms of advanced cancer
  • Shrinking the size of the tumor before the surgical procedure
  • Treating cancer, either as a single treatment or in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • Kill and clean the cancer cells after cancer removal surgery, so that cancer does not come back to attack

Radiotherapy Warnings

Radiotherapy can not be done in all conditions, especially during pregnancy. Pregnant women should not undergo radiotherapy, as this therapy can be fatal and cause pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, premature birth of the baby, or placental abnormalities.

Therefore, female patients who plan to undergo radiation therapy are recommended to use contraceptives when having sexual intercourse. This is to prevent the occurrence of pregnancy, both before and during radiation therapy.

Just like female patients, male patients are also encouraged to use contraceptives when having sex during radiotherapy. In certain cases, male patients are advised to keep using contraceptives during intercourse until several months after radiotherapy is completed.

Radiotherapy Preparation

Before starting radiotherapy, the doctor will perform a series of examinations to confirm whether the procedure is safe and appropriate to do, according to the patient's condition. After that, the doctor will determine the dose and frequency of radiation therapy, according to the type and stage of cancer experienced by the patient.

  • The doctor will also perform a radiation simulation consisting of several stages, as described below:
  • Ask the patient to lie down and determine a comfortable position so that the radiotherapy procedure can run smoothly
  • Provide a pillow and bind the patient's body so that it does not change position during radiotherapy
  • Performing a scan with a CT scan to determine which parts of the body are receiving radiation exposure
  • Determine the type of radiotherapy and how many times the therapy will be done, according to the results of the examination.
  • Marking the part of the patient's body that is treated with radiation waves.
  • Carry out radiotherapy procedures after all the above stages are completed

Radiotherapy Procedure

There are three types of radiotherapy that are often used to treat cancer. Its application also varies, depending on the patient's condition and the size and type of cancer. The following are the types of radiotherapy in question and their explanation:

External radiotherapy

External radiotherapy is a therapy that is done by directing X-rays or proton rays to the part of the body affected by cancer. This therapy does not cause pain so patients can generally go home immediately after treatment is completed.

External radiotherapy usually lasts for 10-30 minutes each session. This therapy can be done twice a week.

Internal radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy or brachytherapy is done by inserting radioactive implants into the patient's body, precisely near the site of the growth of cancer cells. These implants can be left in the body for a few days or permanently, depending on the type of cancer the patient has.

Keep in mind that implants that are left permanently in the body are not a cause for concern, as radiation levels from the implants will decrease over time.

Systemic radiotherapy

Systemic radiotherapy is radiation therapy performed by introducing drugs into the patient's body. The drug can be swallowed by the patient or injected through a vein.

Systemic radiotherapy or radioisotope therapy is often used in patients with thyroid cancer and prostate cancer. This radiotherapy requires the patient to be hospitalized for a longer time.

After Radiotherapy

The doctor will monitor the patient's condition during radiation therapy. The doctor will also conduct a series of examinations to determine the patient's body's response to therapy. If side effects appear, the doctor will give medicines to relieve these side effects.

Keep in mind, that the effectiveness of radiotherapy can vary in each patient. Some patients have to undergo radiotherapy for weeks or months for results to be seen.

Some of the side effects of radiotherapy are:

  1. Itchy, dry, and reddish skin that generally appears 1-2 weeks after therapy
  2. Hair loss on the treated part of the body, generally 2-3 weeks after therapy
  3. Diarrhea, which usually appears a few days after radiotherapy
  4. Lymphedema, which can cause pain and swell in the legs
  5. Fatigue, which can last for months after therapy
  6. Stiffness, pain, and swelling of the muscles and joints in the treated area
  7. Loss of appetite, causing weight loss
  8. Psychological disorders, such as anxiety, stress, frustration, or depression
  9. Sores in the mouth or mouth ulcers, which can be accompanied by dry mouth, bad breath, and discomfort in the mouth when eating, drinking or talking
  10. Sexual and fertility disorders, including decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction in men, and vaginal dryness in women
  11. Weak immune system due to reduced white blood cell count so susceptible to infection


Mohan, G. et al. (2019). Recent Advances in Radiotherapy and Its Associated Side Effects in Cancer–A Review. The Journal of Basic and Applied Zoology, 80(1), pp. 1–10.
American Cancer Society (2020). Why People with Cancer are More Likely to Get Infections.
American Cancer Society (2019). How Radiation Therapy is Used to Treat Cancer.
American Society of Clinical Oncology (2020). When to Call the Doctor During Cancer Treatment.
Cancer Research UK (2020). What is Radiotherapy?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Radiation Emergencies. Radiation and Pregnancy: A Fact Sheet for Clinicians.
National Health Service UK (2020). Health A to Z. Radiotherapy.
National Institutes of Health (2019). National Cancer Institute. Radiation Therapy to Treat Cancer.
Cleveland Clinic (2020). Treatments & Procedures. Radiation Therapy.
Mayo Clinic (2020). Tests & Procedures. Radiation Therapy.
Krans, B. Healthline (2022). Radiation Therapy: Side Effects, Purpose, Process, and More.

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