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External Radiation Therapy


  • External radiation therapy is a treatment which uses radiation to treat cancer. Radiation is a strong beam of x-ray energy which passes through normal organs and tissues to reach tumors. Cancer is a condition where abnormal cells increase in number and form tumors. Tumors can grow anywhere in your body, such as in your head, chest, and abdomen (stomach). They can grow big and damage tissues, blood vessels, and nerves around them. In your brain, tumors cause headaches, seizures (convulsions), problems with how you think, and trouble remembering things. A prostate tumor can give men problems when passing urine, getting an erection, or getting a female partner pregnant. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of your body and grow into new tumors.
  • Radiation may be used with other treatments such as medicines, chemotherapy and surgery. Radiation therapy may kill cancer cells, and decrease cancer pain that does not go away, even after your use medicine. It may also keep you cancer-free, and increase the years of your life.


Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

  • You may need more treatment sessions for your cancer. You may have to come back every day for up to eight weeks. Ask your caregiver when you need to return for other more treatments. Go to your appointments on time.
  • Your caregiver will check your health to see how well the treatment is working. Your caregiver may need to collect blood for tests.

Eating well with cancer and cancer treatment:

Good nutrition can:

  • help you feel better during treatment and decrease treatment side effects
  • decrease your risk of infection
  • help you have more energy and feel stronger
  • help you maintain a healthy weight and heal faster
Eat a variety of healthy foods to get the protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients that your body needs. You may need to change the foods you eat depending on your treatments and side effects. You also may need to eat more calories than usual. Work with a dietitian to plan the best meals and snacks for you. Ask if you should add vitamins to your diet.

Drinking liquids:

Drink extra liquids to avoid dehydration (loss of body fluid). You will also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments. Ask your caregiver which liquids to drink and how much you need each day.

Skin care:

External beam radiation therapy may make your skin red and very dry. Your skin may also get moist. It may begin to bleed, and start to peel off. Ask your caregiver if you should do the following to care for your skin:

  • Wash your hair and scalp gently with a mild shampoo.
  • Wash your skin with mild soap and avoid scrubbing it. Pat yourself dry with a towel instead of rubbing your skin.
  • While bathing, do not soak for a long time as this can make your skin drier.
  • Ask your caregiver for information about the type of lotion or cream you may use on your skin.


  • You cannot make it to your next treatment on time.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions about your illness, radiation therapy, or medicine.


  • You suddenly have trouble breathing or chest pain.
  • You have trouble seeing, talking, thinking, or remembering.
  • You have very bad headaches or you have a seizure.

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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about External Radiation Therapy (Aftercare Instructions)

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