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What are the types of radiation therapy?

Like surgery, radiation therapy can be a local treatment; it affects cancer cells only in the treated area. If the area treated is broader, we say it is then a regional treatment. Rarely, the whole body is given radiation therapy for a systemic or total-body effect. Radiation can come from a machine (external radiation). It can also come from an implant (a small container of radioactive material) placed (either temporarily or permanently) directly into or near the tumor (internal or interstitial radiation). Some patients receive both kinds of radiation therapy.

External radiation therapy is usually given on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic with specialized  equipment 5 days a week for a number of weeks. Patients are not radioactive during or after the treatment with external beam radiation therapy.

For internal radiation therapy, the patient often stays in the hospital for a few days. The implant may be temporary or permanent. Because the level of radiation is highest during the hospital stay, patients may not be able to have visitors or may have visitors only for a short time. Once an implant is removed, there is no radioactivity in the body. The amount of radiation given off to the outside from a permanent implant goes down to a safe level before the patient leaves the hospital.

Return to Radiation Therapy

See what others are saying

Comment from: SCP, 65-74 Male (Caregiver) Published: September 29

My husband, age 72, has received targeted radiation treatment to reduce or eliminate a tumor in his esophagus. Since his treatments a couple of months ago, his lung tissue has been seriously damaged and he is on oxygen 24/7. He has lost a lot of weight and he is an entirely different person now. If you or a loved one ever have to deal with targeted radiation, please, please ask many, many questions and know what you might have to give up in the name of treatments.

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