ZocdocAnswersIs radiation injury common in people who have cancer?

Question

Is radiation injury common in people who have cancer?

My mother has colon cancer and I worry about her radiation treatment. Can she be harmed by the treatment?

Answer

Patients that have cancer are usually treated with one or a combination of therapies. These therapies may include (but are not limited to), surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and biological therapy. The last two are limited to certain situations. Radiation therapy is designed to target and kill tumor cells in a specific area of the body. It is done by using a beam of radiation that is aimed at a tumor. The radiation damages the tumor cells and causes them to die. This type of therapy is used to shrink a tumor that is causing someone unfavorable symptoms. The side effects of the radiation are usually a sunburn like reaction on the skin, and an increase risk of other cancers down the road in the area that receives the radiation. Usually these drawbacks are minor compared to the benefits. I suggest that you schedule an appointment for your mother with her radiation oncologist. This doctor will be able to discuss all of the pros and cons, risks and benefits of having radiation therapy. In almost every case, the benefits of this type of therapy far outweigh the risks. It is still important to know about the side effects including the slight sunburn so that there are no surprises when they occur. Good luck.

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