Advanced Breast Cancer: Learn about treatment options.

External Beam Radiation Therapy For Bone Metastasis


  • External beam radiation can be used to treat one or more cancer tumors, or it can be used to help stop cancer cells from spreading. Radiation is a very strong x-ray that has a beam of energy. The energy beam is pointed towards areas of the body that have cancer. This therapy is used with other treatments such as medicines, chemotherapy and surgery. When cancer spreads (metastasis) from one area of your body to your bones, it is called bone metastasis. Cancer that spreads to your bones can be painful and place you at a higher risk of breaking your bones.

  • External beam radiation therapy can decrease pain caused by bone metastasis. This treatment may be done after surgery to decrease pressure on nerves caused by cancer that has spread to your spine. It may also be done after surgery to repair your bones, or make them more stable. Radiation therapy after surgery can help prevent more surgery, and may help you be more active. If you have many tumors that cannot be removed, radiation therapy may be used to destroy the tumors. Your pain may decrease or go away within two days of a radiation treatment. In some people it may take two weeks or longer for the pain to go away.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • When you have bone metastasis, your bones can crack or break after your treatment, or between treatments. Bone marrow cells can be damaged, decreasing the number of blood cells that your bone marrow makes. This makes it easier for you to get infections, and make you get tired very easily. High doses of radiation can weaken your pelvis bone, making it easier to break for up to one year after your treatment. Your skin over the area getting radiation may get red and very dry. It may flake off. Your skin may also get moist and bleed, or it may peel off. If your lower body (below your waist) is treated with hemibody radiation, you may get an upset stomach, throw up and have loose, watery bowel movements. If your upper body (above your waist) is treated , you may lose your hair or get pneumonia. It may take a few days or weeks before your pain decreases or goes away. After treatment your pain may come back, and you may need to have more treatments.

  • You may be at a greater risk of getting a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot can break loose and travel to your lungs. A blood clot in your lungs can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. This problem can be life-threatening.

  • If you do not have external beam radiation therapy, the tumor may damage or pinch your nerves and cause pain. You may get weak, or lose feeling in parts of your body. If the tumor is in your spine (back bones), you may have trouble moving or feeling parts of your body. Tumors in your bones may also grow. The tumors can damage and weaken your bones, causing them to break easily. Your pain may not get better with other treatments such as medicine or surgery. When you cannot do things you usually are able to do, you may get anxious or very sad. Talk to your caregiver if you have questions or concerns about your condition, treatment, or care.


Before your treatment:

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

  • You may be given medicine right before your treatment. This medicine may make you feel relaxed and sleepy. You are taken on a stretcher to the room where your treatment will be done, and then you are moved to a table or bed.

  • Tests: You may be given dye for the following tests. Dye is given to you through a vein, and helps caregivers see your body parts better. Tell caregivers if you are allergic to iodine or shellfish, as you may also be allergic to the dye.

    • Bone scan: An x-ray machine uses a computer to see pictures of your bones. This test can show if your bones are weak.

    • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called a CT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of the inside of your body.

    • Magnetic resonance imaging: This is also called an MRI. During the MRI, pictures of your body are taken. An MRI is used to look at your bones and organs for other problems.

During your treatment:

Your caregiver will position your body so that he can see the area that needs to be treated. Pillows or supports are used to hold you in place. Shields to block radiation from going to other parts of your body may be put over you. The machine makes a buzzing sound as it is turned on. It sends a beam of radiation over the area or areas where there is cancer. You should not feel pain, heat, or tingling during the radiation treatment. Lie still and breathe normally during the treatment. Your caregiver will stay nearby in a room where you can see and hear each other.

After your treatment:

You will be taken to a room where caregivers will watch you closely for problems. Do not try to get out of bed until caregiver says it is OK. Caregivers will tell you when you can go home, or they will help you back to your hospital room.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about External Beam Radiation Therapy For Bone Metastasis (Inpatient Care)