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In Treatment For Cancer

Radiation 101

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Radiation is the use of high-energy rays to damage cancer cells. The rays stop the cancer cells from growing and multiplying.

Radiation is a local treatment like surgery that only affects cancer cells in the treated area.

Radiation can come from a machine (called external radiation) or from a small container of radioactive material which is implanted directly into or near the tumor site (called internal radiation).  The implant may be temporary or permanent.

External radiation therapy is usually given on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic. Internal radiation usually requires hospitalization for a few days.

Patients are not radioactive during or after the treatment.

Radiation is generally painless when given, though the area may become tender and sore.
Fatigue that frequently accompanies radiation often comes on toward the end of treatment and may linger for weeks afterward.

To learn about the other potential side effects of radiation to different areas of the body, see The National Cancer Institute chart at: offsite link

To learn what to expect during a radiation treatment, see the Survivorship A to Z article of the same name in "To Learn More."


  • While receiving radiation treatments, do not take vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants or other supplements without first asking your doctor, nurse or dietitian whether it is okay. Some of these substances can be harmful. Some may reduce the effectiveness of the radiation therapy.
  • If medical personnel suggest or allow you take vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants or other supplements, do not take more than is recommended without first checking with medical personnel. 
  • If you want to become pregnant, check with your doctor first.  If you unexpectedly do become pregnant, tell your radiologist right away.

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