Radiotherapy to Treat Cancer

Radiotherapy to Treat Cancer

Radiotherapy kills cancer cells or slows down their growth by damaging their DNA. Radiotherapy (also called radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment that uses high radiation doses to kill cancer cells and retractations. At low doses, radiation is used in radiographs to look inside your body, such as teeth radiographs or broken bones.

How cancer radiotherapy works

At high doses, radiotherapy kills cancer cells or slows their growth by damaging their DNA. Cancer cells whose DNA is damaged beyond the repair of dividing or dying. When damaged cells die, the body breaks down and eliminates them.

Radiotherapy does not kill cancer cells immediately. Days or weeks of treatment are needed before DNA is damaged enough for cancer cells to die. Then, cancer cells continue to die for weeks or months after radiotherapy ends.

Types of radiotherapy

  • There are two main types of radiotherapy, external and internal.
  • The type of radiotherapy may have dependent on many factors, including:
  • The type of cancer
  • Tumor size
  • The location of the tumor in the body
  • How close is the tumor to normal tissues that are sensitive to radiation
  • Your general health and medical history
  • If you will have other types of cancer treatment
  • Other factors, such as age and other medical conditions

External beam radiotherapy

The radiotherapy of the external beam comes from a machine that points to radiation in its cancer. The machine is large and can be loud. It does not touch it, but it can move around it, sending radiation to a part of your body from many directions.

External beam radiotherapy is a local treatment, which means that it is a specific part of your body. For example, if you have cancer in the lung, you will have radiation only in your chest, not for your whole body.

Internal radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy is a treatment in which a radiation source is placed within the body. The radiation source can be solid or liquid.

Internal radiotherapy with a solid source is called brachytherapy. In this type of treatment, seeds, tapes or capsules that contain a radiation source are placed in your body, in or near the tumor. Like the radiotherapy of the external beam, brachytherapy is a local treatment and is only a specific part of its body.

Internal radiotherapy with a liquid source is called systemic therapy. Systemic means that treatment travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body, searching and killing cancer cells. Receive systemic radiotherapy when swallowing, through a vein through an IV line, or through an injection.

  • With systemic radiation, body fluids, such as urine, sweat, and saliva, will emit radiation for a while.
  • Why do people with cancer receive radiotherapy?
  • Radiotherapy is used to treat cancer and relieve cancer symptoms.


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.

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