Thyroid Cancer (cont.)

External radiation therapy

External radiation therapy is a treatment for any type of thyroid cancer that can't be treated with surgery or I-131 therapy. It's also sometimes used for cancer that returns after treatment or to relieve bone pain from cancer that has spread.

External radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. A large machine directs radiation at the neck or other tissues where cancer has spread.

The treatment usually is given in a hospital or clinic. You may receive external radiation therapy 5 days a week for several weeks. Each treatment takes only a few minutes.

Although radiation therapy is painless, it may cause side effects. The side effects depend mainly on how much radiation is given and which part of your body is treated. Radiation to the neck may cause a sore throat and trouble swallowing. Also, the skin on your neck may become red, dry, and tender.

You are likely to become tired during radiation therapy, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise patients to try to stay as active as they can.

Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be upsetting, they can usually be treated or controlled. Talk with your doctor or nurse about ways to relieve discomfort. Most side effects go away when treatment ends.

You may find it helpful to read the NCI booklet Radiation Therapy and You.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having radiation therapy:

  • What is the goal of this treatment?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
  • When will the treatments begin? How often will I have them? When will they end?
  • How will I feel during treatment? What are the side effects?
  • How will we know if the radiation therapy is working?
  • Will I be able to continue my normal activities during treatment?
  • Are there lasting side effects?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/7/2012

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