Radiation Therapy—Internal

(Ionizing Radiation; Radiotherapy; Brachytherapy)


Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer and other diseases. It uses high-energy particles to damage the DNA in the cancer cells. This makes the cells unable to grow or divide.There are 2 main types of radiation therapy:
  • External —radiation is delivered by a machine that shoots particles at the cells from outside the body
  • Internal—radioactive materials are placed in the body near the cancer cells; this is also called implant radiation or brachytherapy
In certain cases, your doctor may recommend a combination of these. Radiation is often used with other types of treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy , and immunotherapy, which stimulates the immune system to fight infection. This fact sheet will focus on internal radiation therapy.

Reasons for Procedure

This procedure is done to:
  • Control the growth or spread of cancer
  • Attempt to cure cancer
  • Reduce pain or other symptoms caused by cancer—called palliative radiation
Radiation therapy is used to treat solid tumors such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, and head and neck cancers.

Possible Complications

Internal radiation can cause side effects. The radiation damages your own healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. The side effects will vary depending on the type and location of treatment. Common side effects of radiation include, but are not limited, to:
  • Fatigue
  • Skin changes such as redness and irritation
  • Reduced white blood cell count
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
Discuss the specific side effects that you may have with your doctor.Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:A woman who is pregnant or could be pregnant should avoid exposure to radiation. It could harm a developing fetus.

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