Radiation therapy or radiotherapy, often abbreviated RT, RTx, or XRT, is therapy using ionizing radiation, generally as part of cancer treatment to control or kill malignant cells and normally delivered by a linear accelerator. Radiation therapy may be curative in a number of types of cancer if they are localized to one area of the body. Radiation therapy is synergistic with chemotherapy, and has been used before, during, and after chemotherapy in susceptible cancers.
How is radiation therapy given?
Radiation therapy can be given in 3 ways:
- External radiation (or external beam radiation): uses a machine that directs high-energy rays from outside the body into the tumor. Most people get external radiation therapy over many weeks. It’s done during outpatient visits to a hospital or treatment center.
- Internal radiation: Internal radiation is also called brachytherapy. A radioactive source is put inside the body into or near the tumor.
- Systemic radiation: Radioactive drugs given by mouth or put into a vein are used to treat certain types of cancer. These drugs then travel throughout the body.
The type of radiation you might get depends on the kind of cancer you have and where it is. In some cases, more than one type is used.
Who gives radiation therapy treatments?
During your radiation therapy, a team of highly trained medical professionals will care for you. Your team may include these people:
- Radiation oncologist: This doctor is specially trained to treat cancer with radiation. This person oversees your radiation treatment plan.
- Radiation physicist: This is the person who makes sure the radiation equipment is working as it should and that it gives you the exact dose prescribed by your radiation oncologist.
- Dosimetrist: This person is supervised by the radiation physicist and helps the radiation oncologist plan the treatment.
- Radiation therapist or radiation therapy technologist: This person operates the radiation equipment and positions you for each treatment.
- Radiation therapy nurse: This nurse has special training in cancer treatment and can give you information about radiation treatment and managing side effects.
You may also need the services of a dietitian, physical therapist, medical or clinical social worker, dentist or dental oncologist, or other health care providers.