What is Radiotherapy?


Understanding Radiotherapy: What It Is and What to Expect

Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a common and effective form of cancer treatment. It involves the use of high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells and prevent them from growing and multiplying. While the idea of radiation therapy may seem intimidating, it is a safe and generally painless procedure that can be tailored to meet each individual’s needs. In this article, we’ll explore what radiotherapy is, what to expect during the treatment process, and the possible side effects that may occur.

What is Radiotherapy?

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It works by damaging the DNA inside cancer cells, making it impossible for them to grow and divide. Radiation can be delivered to the cancer site from a machine outside the body (external beam radiation therapy) or from a radioactive source placed inside the body (brachytherapy).

Does Radiotherapy Cause Pain?

One of the most common concerns patients have about radiation therapy is whether it will be painful. The truth is that radiation therapy itself is generally painless. However, depending on the location of the cancer, some patients may experience discomfort during the procedure. For example, radiation therapy for prostate cancer may cause urinary issues, while radiation therapy for breast cancer may cause skin irritation.

What are the Possible Side Effects of Radiotherapy?

While radiation therapy is generally safe and well-tolerated, it can cause some side effects. The specific side effects experienced will depend on the location of the cancer being treated and the dosage of radiation given. Common side effects include fatigue, skin changes, and nausea. In some cases, patients may experience long-term side effects such as lymphedema or damage to nearby organs.

Does Radiotherapy Make Me Radioactive?

A common misconception about radiation therapy is that it will make the patient radioactive. In fact, external radiation therapy does not make the patient radioactive. While brachytherapy does involve placing a radioactive source inside the body, the amount of radiation given is carefully controlled and monitored to minimize the risk of exposure to others.

How Long Does the Radiotherapy Application Take?

The length of time it takes to administer radiation therapy will depend on the specific treatment plan. Generally, radiation therapy is given in multiple sessions over the course of several weeks. Each session usually lasts between 10 and 30 minutes, with the actual radiation delivery only taking a few minutes.

What to Expect During Radiotherapy

Before beginning radiation therapy, the patient will undergo a planning session to determine the exact location of the cancer and the dosage of radiation needed. During the actual radiation therapy sessions, the patient will lie on a table while the radiation machine delivers the treatment. The machine may move around the patient to target different angles and areas.

Preparing for Radiotherapy

Before beginning radiation therapy, patients should discuss any concerns or questions they have with their healthcare provider. It is important to follow any instructions provided, such as avoiding certain foods or medications, to ensure the treatment is as effective as possible. Patients may also want to consider reaching out to support groups or other resources to help them cope with the emotional and physical challenges of radiation therapy.


Radiation therapy is an important tool in the fight against cancer. While it can cause some side effects, the benefits often outweigh the risks. By understanding what to expect during radiation therapy and working closely with healthcare providers, patients can feel more comfortable and confident during the treatment process.


  1. How long does radiation therapy last? Radiation therapy is typically given in multiple sessions over the course of several weeks.
  1. Will radiation therapy make me feel sick? Some patients may experience side effects such as fatigue, skin changes, and nausea, but not all patients will experience these symptoms.
  2. Can radiation therapy cure cancer? Radiation therapy can be an effective treatment for many types of cancer, but it is not a guaranteed cure. The effectiveness of radiation therapy will depend on the type and stage of cancer being treated.
  3. How is radiation therapy different from chemotherapy? Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are both cancer treatments, but they work in different ways. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells, while chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
  4. Is radiation therapy safe? Radiation therapy is generally safe, but there are some risks associated with the treatment. Patients should discuss any concerns or questions they have with their healthcare provider to ensure they are fully informed about the risks and benefits of radiation therapy.
  5. Can I still work while undergoing radiation therapy? Many patients are able to continue working while undergoing radiation therapy. However, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any physical limitations or side effects that may impact your ability to work.
  6. Will I lose my hair during radiation therapy? Hair loss is not a common side effect of radiation therapy, but it may occur in the area being treated. For example, patients undergoing radiation therapy for head and neck cancer may experience hair loss on the scalp or face.
  7. How can I manage side effects of radiation therapy? There are several strategies for managing side effects of radiation therapy, including taking medications to alleviate symptoms and making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest.
  8. How do I know if radiation therapy is right for me? The decision to undergo radiation therapy should be made in consultation with your healthcare provider. Factors such as the type and stage of cancer, as well as your overall health and medical history, will be taken into account when determining if radiation therapy is the best treatment option for you.
  9. What can I expect after radiation therapy is complete? After radiation therapy is complete, patients will usually have follow-up appointments with their healthcare provider to monitor their progress and check for any signs of cancer recurrence. It is important to continue following any instructions provided by your healthcare provider, such as attending regular screenings and making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of cancer.
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