Cancers We Treat

Clinical Programs & Services

For Patients & Families

Find a Doctor

Cancer Treatment

Radiation Oncology

You’ll receive all-encompassing treatment and personalized care on your journey to recovery.

Radiation Therapy Overview

Radiation therapy, or radiation oncology, is a common type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy particles, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams or protons, to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA. As the DNA is damaged, the cancer cells stop dividing, slowing the growth of tumors. When the cancer cells eventually die, the body breaks them down and eliminates them.

Radiation therapy may be used alone or with other types of cancer treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy or both.

Types of Radiation Therapy

Depending on the type, size and location of the cancer, patients may receive one of three types of radiation therapy:

Masked doctor discusses treatment options with family member.

Getting Started

After a physical exam and review of your medical history, the radiation oncologist will do special planning to pinpoint the treatment area.

In a process called simulation, the patient will be asked to lie very still on a table while the radiation therapist uses a special x-ray machine or CT unit to define the fields to be treated. This process may take 30 minutes to an hour, and devices may be constructed to hold you in one position. This will help ensure that the patient lies in the same position for each radiation treatment. Marks will be placed on the skin that will be used to position the patient for treatment. A return appointment will be scheduled to verify and begin treatments.

Beginning Radiation

After simulation, the physician will decide how much radiation is needed, how it will be delivered and how many treatments are needed. Treatment planning computer software is then used to examine the most effective techniques for treatment.

Each patient has a special treatment, so the area to be treated and the length of treatment are different for each person. Much of the time in the treatment room is spent setting up the area to be treated. The actual treatment takes just a few minutes each day.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

As radiation therapy kills cancer cells, healthy cells may also become damaged, leading to acute and chronic side effects. Side effects depend on the type of radiation therapy, the part of the body treated, the dose received and other treatments received.

Acute side effects occur during treatment and typically disappear after radiation therapy is complete. Acute side effects can include skin irritation, hair loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Chronic side effects can occur up to years after radiation therapy ends and can include fibrosis, memory loss, infertility and rarely, a second form of cancer.

Important Facts to Remember

  • All side-effects that occur during radiation therapy are manageable.
  • The radiation passes through the body and does not remain in you; you are not radioactive.
  • Only the body part in the field of radiation is affected.
  • Normal cells exposed to radiation begin to repair themselves soon after exposure.
  • Make sure to get plenty of rest. Get more sleep at night, take naps during the day and let family members help when they can.
  • Side-effects usually improve within a few weeks.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy comes from a machine outside of the body that uses electricity to create high-energy subatomic particles. Most commonly, external beam radiation therapy is received daily for several weeks.
Systemic Radiation Therapy
Systemic radiation therapy is given to patients orally or intravenously in combination with a monoclonal antibody to target the radioactive substance to the right location in the body. Systemic radiation therapy is commonly used in thyroid cancer, or as a method of pain relief for cancers that have spread to the bones.
Internal Radiation Therapy
Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, is delivered by placing sealed radioactive isotopes inside of the body using needles or catheters. Internal radiation therapy may be given in high or low dosage rates and may be temporary or permanent. Internal radiation therapy is commonly used to treat prostate cancer, and may be used alone or in combination with external beam radiation therapy.
Radiation Oncologists

Learn More

Explore our Cancer Services

Baptist Cancer Center provides a wide range of cancer care services. Whether you or a loved one needs radiation therapy, genetic counseling, reconstructive surgery or another form of cancer support, we serve the Mid-South with close-to-home care. Learn more about our cancer services now.