Understanding Anal Cancer: Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is also called radiotherapy or radiation. This treatment uses high energy rays (similar to X-rays) to destroy cancer cells or shrink tumors. This is a very effective way to destroy cancer cells that may remain after anal cancer surgery.

Your doctor may recommend radiation in combination with chemotherapy and surgery.  Radiation can pinpoint the cancer cells very well. In addition, radiation therapy is relatively easy to tolerate, because its side effects are limited to the treated area.

A radiation oncologist will oversee your radiation treatments. Radiation may be given:

  • From outside your body (external radiation) or
  • From radioactive materials placed directly in the tumor

Let’s look at each type:

External beam radiation therapy

This is the most common type of radiation used. Short bursts of X-ray beams are fired from the machine at the cancer. This type of radiation is designed to treat the cancer but affect as little normal tissue as possible. This kind of radiation is often given 5 days a week for about 5 weeks.

Side effects to external radiation can include:

  • Temporary discomfort when having a bowel movement
  • Sunburned appearance to skin
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding from the rectum

Usually these side effects will go away once radiation is over.

Internal radiation (brachytherapy)

In this type of radiation, your doctor will put radioactive seeds or pellets inside your body. These will be placed near the tumor. Over time these pellets release  treatment involves minor surgery to put radioactive seeds or pellets inside the body, in or near the tumor. The pellets slowly release their dose of radioactivity over a period of time. This type of radiation involves fewer trips to the doctor, since the pellets stay in place.

Over time the pellets will stop being radioactive. However, they will remain in place. You may experience some of the same side effects as external radiation.

Back to “Understanding Anal Cancer: An Introduction” 

Return to list of treatment options.