Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy focuses radiation on the cancer from a machine outside the body. Treatments are often given once or twice a day, 5 days a week for several weeks. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, and is similar to having a regular x-ray test. As with a diagnostic x-ray, the radiation passes through the skin and other tissues before it reaches the tumor. The actual radiation exposure time is very short, and most of the treatment time is spent precisely positioning the patient so that the radiation is aimed accurately at the cancer.
Brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy) uses small pellets of radioactive material placed next to or directly into the cancer, sometimes in thin plastic tubes. The tubes containing the pellets are left in place for a few days and then removed. The actual time is determined by the strength of the radioactive pellets and the size of the tumor. This type of radiation is not often used to treat adrenal cortical carcinoma.
Radiation therapy is not used often as the main initial treatment for adrenal cancer because the cancer cells are not easy to kill with x-rays. Radiation may be used after surgery to help keep the tumor from coming back. This is called adjuvant therapy. Radiation can also be used to treat areas of cancer spread, such as in the bones or brain.
Common side effects of radiation therapy include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea (if an area of the abdomen is treated)
- Skin changes in the area being treated, which can range from redness to blistering and peeling
- Hair loss in the area being treated
- Low blood counts
More information about radiation therapy can be found in our document Understanding Radiation Therapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.
Last Revised: 02/25/2015