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Radiation Therapy for Cancer Pain

Treatment Overview

Radiation therapy is the use of X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation damages the cells in the area being treated, stopping or slowing the growth of the cancer cells.

Radiation is also used to control pain by destroying a growing tumor that is invading or interfering with normal tissue, such as when a tumor presses on bones, nerves, or other organs. This may be done with radiation to part of the body or, in rare cases, with radiation to the whole body. Or you may be given a shot with a radioactive medicine.

What To Expect

Radiation therapy can reduce pain by shrinking a tumor. And for cancer that has spread to the bones, walking and moving around may be less painful.footnote 1

Why It Is Done

Radiation therapy is used to control pain when a growing tumor invades or interferes with normal tissues, such as bones, nerves, or other organs.

How Well It Works

Radiation therapy can reduce pain. One or more treatments may be needed to relieve pain.

Risks

Side effects are common with radiation therapy and may depend on what area of the body receives radiation. Side effects can include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • A cough or chest pain.
  • A flare-up of pain that lasts for a few days. This is common with treatment for bone tumors.

Side effects can be treated with pain medicines and anti-nausea medicines. They usually go away 4 to 6 weeks after treatments are done. Long-term side effects are uncommon.

What To Think About

While radiation therapy may not cure the cancer that is causing pain, it may reduce symptoms and slow the spread of the disease.

References

Citations

  1. National Cancer Institute (2013). Pain PDQ – Patient Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/pain/Patient.

Credits

Current as of: August 22, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Jimmy Ruiz, MD - Medical Oncology, Hematology

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