Radiation Therapy

A powerful weapon against cancer

What is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer. It uses special equipment to aim high doses of radiation at cancer cells. This damages the cancer cells and causes them to die.

Radiation therapy can be a highly effective method of treating different cancer types including cancer of the bladder, brain, head and neck, lung, breast, prostate, skin, rectum, stomach, testicles, cervix and uterus, among others. It may also be used to combat lymphoma and sarcoma. Radiation therapy can be given alone or used with other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

Unlike chemotherapy, which exposes the whole body to cancer-fighting drugs, radiation therapy is usually a local treatment. It targets only the part of the body being treated. The goal of radiation treatment is to damage as many cancer cells as possible, with little harm to nearby healthy tissue.

One of the reasons referring physicians recommend 21st Century Oncology is because they know we offer the latest, most sophisticated radiation therapy planning and delivery systems. This ensures that you and your Radiation Oncologist can choose the best treatment option given your type of cancer, its stage and location. Why is this so important? The more precisely we can target your tumor site, the lower the risk of side effects and the chance of a recurrence.


When is radiation therapy used?

Radiation therapy can be used alone or as part of a cancer treatment plan that may also include surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal or biological therapies. It may be used in an effort to eliminate the cancer, or to treat unpleasant symptoms the cancer is causing; such as pain or bleeding.

Depending on the type of radiation therapy technology used, patients may receive treatment in a single session or through a series of visits over a period that can last anywhere from one to eight weeks.

Types of Radiation Therapy

There are two basic types of radiation therapy: External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT) and Brachytherapy. With EBRT, the radiation is delivered from outside of the body using one of several different types of radiation systems. For patients undergoing Brachytherapy, a radioactive source is temporarily or permanently placed near the tumor site or in a cavity left by a tumor that has been surgically removed.

Regardless of whether you and your Radiation Oncologist choose a form of External Beam Radiation Therapy or Brachytherapy, the primary objective of these increasingly sophisticated radiation therapy systems is to deliver as much radiation as possible — for maximum effectiveness — while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue and possible side effects.

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)

EBRT uses highly sophisticated systems to irradiate tumors from outside the body. It is a powerful weapon against many different types of cancer. In some cases EBRT is applied as a standalone radiation treatment. In others, it is recommended either before or after surgery.

If you and your 21st Century Oncology team decide on EBRT, there are several different technology options available. These are:

While these different types of radiation therapies may share similar features and benefits, each is particularly effective against or suitable for certain tumors. Which one is best for you will depend primarily on the type, location and stage of your cancer.


Brachytherapy is a powerful form of radiation therapy which utilizes radioactive sources that are placed into or near the regions of the body to be treated. Brachytherapy can be used as a treatment option in multiple cancer types, but most commonly in skin cancer, prostate cancer, cervix cancer and breast cancer. There are two types of Brachytherapy: High-Dose Rate (HDR) and Low-Dose Rate (LDR). The difference is the rate at which the radiation is delivered. Brachytherapy can be used as a standalone cancer treatment or after a tumor has been surgically removed to eliminate any remaining cancerous cells and help prevent a recurrence.

  • Interstitial Brachytherapy, often used for prostate cancer, delivers the radiation directly into tissue
  • Intracavitary Brachytherapy, used for breast, cervical and vaginal cancers, delivers radiation alongside the tumor or into the space where a tumor was recently removed

Both HDR and LDR forms of Brachytherapy deliver a radiation dose concentrated in the treatment area, with minimal dose to surrounding organs. The procedures are relatively well-tolerated and usually are done without overnight hospitalization. Surgical incisions are not required.

What is the right option for me?

At 21st Century Oncology, our radiation therapy treatment teams develop an individual treatment plan for each patient, taking into consideration the type of cancer, the stage and location of the cancer, the patient’s general health and the patient’s own preferences; among other factors. Make an appointment with a Radiation Oncologist near you to learn what radiation therapy treatment plan is the best course of action for your recovery.

How Radiation Therapy Is Given

21st Century Oncology provides radiation treatment at our conveniently located treatment centers.


Initial consultation

During an initial consultation, you will meet with your 21st Century Oncology team and discuss your specific type of cancer, the most effective types of radiation used to treat it, and the results you might expect from your radiation treatment. You may also be scheduled for initial imaging scans, such as x-rays or a CT scan, that will help your team plan the best course of treatment.


Radiation treatment schedule

Once you and your treatment team determine your radiation treatment plan, you will be provided with a therapy schedule. Depending on your therapy choice, your schedule may be just one or two appointments over several days or a series of regular appointments over a number of weeks.

When you come in you will be escorted into the treatment suite where your 21st Century Oncology team will take care of you.

If you and your Radiation Oncologist choose External Beam Radiation Therapy, you will be carefully positioned on a treatment table. The radiation delivery device will rotate around you. Treatments typically last only a few minutes and are pain-free. They require no sedation so you can get back to your life right away.

If you are scheduled to receive Brachytherapy, your treatment team will use a special device to implant the radiation source near the tumor. You may feel some minor discomfort. These radiation treatments typically take about a half hour although some forms of Brachytherapy may require a longer visit or a hospital stay.

Radiation Therapy Side Effects

With radiation therapy, the goal is to kill cancerous cells while sparing normal, healthy tissues surrounding the tumor. Today’s advanced treatment technologies deliver radiation with pinpoint accuracy, thereby minimizing the risk to surrounding tissue or organs.

Radiation treatments are typically pain-free. No radiation remains in the body during treatment or after treatment is complete.

Most radiation therapy patients experience few or no side effects unlike some other treatments for cancer. In instances where side effects do occur, they are usually temporary, can be managed with medication, and disappear within a few weeks after treatment is complete.

The most common radiation therapy side effects, depending on the part of the body treated, include:

  • Coughing, shortness of breath
  • Sore throat or soreness when swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Skin irritation, redness or soreness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Incontinence
  • Impotence
  • Issues with bowel control

At 21st Century Oncology, we see the management of any radiation therapy side effects as critical to reducing stress and discomfort and achieving the best outcome possible. If you do experience side effects, your treatment team will help you manage them and will provide medication and recommendations such as modifying your diet as appropriate.

We hope this radiation therapy overview answered many of your questions. Learn more about radiation therapy by clicking on the links below.