Radiation therapy is the use of X-rays to destroy cancer cells and
shrink tumors. Radiation damages the genetic material of cells in the area
being treated, leaving the cells unable to continue to grow. Although radiation
damages normal cells as well as cancer cells, the normal cells can repair
themselves. The cancer cells cannot.
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.
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.1
Radiation therapy is used to control pain when a growing tumor
invades or interferes with normal tissues, such as bones, nerves, or other
Radiation therapy can reduce pain. Often only a single treatment is needed to relieve pain.1
Side effects are common with radiation therapy and may depend on
what area of the body receives radiation. Side effects typically go away after
radiation therapy is over. Side effects can include:
- Hair loss near the treated
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Loss of
- Painful urination.
- Skin darkening in the area
exposed to a beam of radiation, which can be permanent.
- Sore throat (with neck or chest radiation).
- Vaginal dryness in women and erection problems in men (with
While radiation therapy may not cure the cancer that is causing
pain, it may reduce symptoms and slow the spread of the disease.
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.
National Cancer Institute (2011). Pain PDQ—Patient Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/pain/Patient.