what is radiation

What Is Radiation Therapy And How Does It Work? 6 Myths And Facts

Most people are probably familiar with the names of the main types of cancer treatments: chemo, surgery, and radiation therapy.

But while surgery is more or less self-explanatory and chemo is pretty widely known, there can be quite a bit of confusion and misinformation about radiation therapy as a type of cancer treatment.

So, what is radiation therapy and how does it help childhood cancer patients? Here are 6 myths and facts to keep in mind.

1. Myth Or Fact: Radiation Therapy Uses Low-Energy Waves To Target Cancer Cells.

Myth.

Radiation therapy makes use of high-energy particles—such as X-rays—to go after cancer cells, explains the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

That’s because at those levels, radiation can destroy the cancer or stop its growth.

2. Myth Or Fact: Radiation Therapy Can Be Used In Many Different Ways.

Fact.

Radiation can be used as a treatment all on its own. But some kids receive radiation therapy before surgery or chemo because it can shrink the tumor to a size that is easier to remove, says CureSearch for Children’s Cancer.

There are different reasons to use radiation as well. Sometimes, the goal is to destroy the cancer. Other times, the goal is to control the cancer’s growth. And there are also times when it is used to help relieve cancer symptoms.

Radiation given to relieve symptoms like bone pain is called palliative radiation therapy, says the National Cancer Institute.

3. Myth Or Fact: There Are Different Types Of Radiation Therapy.

Fact.

There are two main kinds of radiation therapy: external, or external beam therapy, and internal, also called brachytherapy.

External radiation therapy is delivered through a machine that aims the energy waves at the tumor. Internal radiation therapy can be swallowed, injected, or even implanted into the tumor.

The kind of radiation—and how it is given—depends on a couple of factors, including the type and location of the cancer.

Most childhood cancers are treated with external beam therapy, says CureSearch.

4. Myth Or Fact: Radiation Therapy Is Usually A One-Time Treatment.

Myth.

There’s actually a whole process involved with treating cancer using radiation therapy.

Your child’s medical team will come up with the best treatment plan for how much radiation is needed and how many treatments should be given.

Then, there’s usually what’s called a simulation. That’s when the medical team figures out the best physical position for your child during treatment. Sometimes, they’ll even mark areas on her body to make it easier to position her the right way each time.

In the case of external beam radiation, treatment may go on five days a week for several weeks, says CureSearch.

what is radiation

5. Myth Or Fact: Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy Vary.

Fact.

Radiation therapy’s side effects depend on the kind and amount of radiation given as well as the location.

Some of the more common side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Decreased or delayed bone growth
  • Skin irritation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

The side effects usually start a few weeks into treatment and last for a few weeks afterward, according to CureSearch.

6. Myth Or Fact: Radiation Therapy Makes You Radioactive.

Myth.

It may seem silly, but there is a misconception out there that receiving radiation therapy to treat cancer can make a child radioactive.

But this is just a myth, explains CureSearch. While cancer treatment may sometimes have unusual side effects, radioactivity is not one of them.

Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

2 thoughts on “What Is Radiation Therapy And How Does It Work? 6 Myths And Facts

  1. Thanks for writing this list. My grandpa just went through radiation therapy and I wanted to know more about it. I’m glad that radiation does not make people radioactive. For one, I wouldn’t be able to visit my grandpa if that were true. However, it is kind of disappointing that radiation treatment doesn’t lead to one getting special “Marvel” super powers.

    • No super powers, James, not as far as any scientific studies have shown so far. But you never know 😉 All the best to your grandpa, and enjoy your visits with him!

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