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What is radiation therapy?

Radiation (ray-dee-A-shun) therapy (ther-uh-pee) is the use of radiation to treat cancer and other problems. There are different types of radiation. One that you may know about is x-rays. If you’ve ever had an x-ray of your chest or any other body part, you have had some radiation. This same type of radiation is used in much higher doses to treat some types of cancer.

How does radiation therapy work?

Your body is made up of trillions of normal, healthy cells. Cancer starts when something changes a normal cell into a cancer cell. This cancer cell then grows and makes more cancer cells until a tumor is formed. This tumor can grow and cause problems. If the cancer is not treated, it can spread to other parts of the body and form more tumors.

Radiation is used to kill the cancer cells. Special equipment sends high doses of radiation to the cancer cells or tumor. This keeps the cells from growing and making more cancer cells. Radiation can also affect normal cells near the tumor. But normal cells can repair themselves and cancer cells cannot.

Sometimes radiation is the only treatment needed. Other times it’s one part of a patient’s cancer treatment plan.

Your doctor may suggest radiation therapy to treat your cancer. Sometimes radiation can cure cancer. At other times the goal may be to slow its growth to reduce problems and help you feel better. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the goal of your treatment.

Radiation therapy is not like chemotherapy (key-mo-THER-uh-pee, often called chemo). Radiation treats just the tumor. Chemo uses drugs to treat the whole body. So chemo might be used if a person has cancer in many places. Radiation affects only the part of the body being treated.

How much does radiation therapy cost?

Radiation therapy can cost a lot. This is because the machines are complex, and you will need the help of many doctors, nurses, and other staff. How much your radiation costs depends on the type of treatment you get and the number of treatments you need.

Most health insurance plans cover radiation therapy. Ask your doctor whom you can talk to about your coverage and how much you will have to pay. Check on your costs before you start treatment. In some states, Medicaid will help pay for treatments.

If you do not have insurance or Medicaid, talk with your hospital’s social service office.

Last Medical Review: 11/26/2012
Last Revised: 11/26/2012

Referenced from American Cancer Society (cancer.org)