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External Beam Radiation Therapy

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about external beam radiation therapy (EBRT)?

EBRT is used to kill cancer cells or stop them from spreading. EBRT is also used to decrease pain caused by metastasis. Radiation is a very strong type of x-ray. EBRT may be combined with other treatments such as medicine, chemo, or surgery. It is usually done in a hospital or clinic. You may need EBRT every day over a period of several weeks.

How do I prepare for EBRT?

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for EBRT. He or she may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of EBRT. Your healthcare provider may, instead, tell you to eat healthy foods. He or she will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of EBRT. Arrange for someone to drive you to and from your treatment sessions.

What will happen during EBRT?

You may be given medicine to help you stay calm and relaxed. Your healthcare provider will position your body for the procedure. Pillows or supports may be used to hold you in place. Shields may be put over you to block radiation exposure to other parts of your body. A machine will send a beam of radiation to the area of the cancer. You should not feel any pain, heat, or tingling during the procedure. Your healthcare provider will stay nearby in a room and you will be able to talk to him or her. Treatment usually lasts up to 15 minutes.

What will happen after EBRT?

You will be able to go home or be taken to your hospital room.

What are the risks of EBRT?

  • Normal cells may be damaged by the radiation. This can cause your tissues or organs to stop working properly. Bone marrow cells may be damaged and increase your risk for infections and fatigue. High doses of radiation can weaken your bones and increase your risk for a fracture. Your skin may become red and dry. It may also bleed, flake off, or start to peel.
  • You may have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. You may lose your hair. You may become infertile after radiation treatment. Your pain may not go away for days or weeks, or it may return. You may need more treatment.

How can I care for my skin during EBRT?

  • Bathing:
    • Do not rub off the markings made by your healthcare provider. They show your healthcare provider where to place the radiation.
    • Use a mild soap and warm water to bathe. Ask your healthcare provider what soaps are okay to use.
    • Do not use very hot or very cold water on the areas of your skin that are being treated.
    • Let the soap and water gently run over the treatment area. Do not rub the treatment area.
    • Do not shower more than one time each day. Limit baths to 2 times each week for 30 minutes or less.
    • Gently pat your skin dry after you bathe.
  • Ask if it is okay to shave the area being treated. Ask your healthcare provider what shaving creams or shaving lotions are okay to use during treatment. Only use an electric razor to shave. Do not put aftershave on your skin.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. If your healthcare provider says it is okay, wear sunscreen when you are in the sun. Use sunscreen that is at least SPF 30. Make sure the entire area of skin being treated is covered when you are outside. Wear dark clothing or UV-protected clothing. Do not use tanning beds or sun lamps. Your treated skin will continue to be at risk for skin cancer after treatment ends.
  • Do not go in swimming pools. The chemicals may irritate and damage your skin during treatment. Ask your healthcare provider how long you should wait to swim after treatment ends.

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

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