Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells in a specific area of the body. Radiation can be used in different ways to help treat stomach cancer:
- Before surgery for some cancers, radiation can be used along with chemotherapy (chemo) to try to shrink the tumor to make surgery easier.
- After surgery, radiation therapy can be used to kill very small remnants of the cancer that cannot be seen and removed during surgery. Radiation therapy — especially when combined with chemo drugs such as 5-FU — may delay or prevent cancer recurrence after surgery and may help patients live longer.
- Radiation therapy can be used to slow the growth and ease the symptoms of advanced stomach cancer, such as pain, bleeding, and eating problems.
External beam radiation therapy is the type of radiation therapy often used to treat stomach cancer. This treatment focuses radiation on the cancer from a machine outside the body. Often, special types of external beam radiation, such three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) are used. These use computers and special techniques to focus the radiation on the cancer and limit the damage to nearby normal tissues.
Before your treatments start, the radiation team will take careful measurements to determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. Radiation therapy is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is much stronger. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, although the setup time — getting you into place for treatment — usually takes longer. Treatments are usually given 5 days a week over several weeks or months. Side effects from radiation therapy for stomach cancer can include:
- Skin problems, ranging from redness to blistering and peeling, in the area where the radiation passed through
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low blood cell counts
These usually go away within several weeks after the treatment is finished.
When radiation is given with chemotherapy, side effects are often worse. Patients may have problems eating and getting enough fluids. Some need to have fluids given into a vein (IV) or have a feeding tube placed to get nutrition during treatment.
Please be sure to tell your doctor about any side effects you have, because there are often ways to relieve them.
Radiation might also damage nearby organs that are exposed to the beams. This could lead to problems such as heart or lung damage, or even an increased risk of another cancer later on. Doctors do everything they can to prevent this by using only the needed dose of radiation, carefully controlling where the beams are aimed, and shielding certain parts of the body from the radiation during treatment.
It is very important that you get treated at a center that has extensive experience in treating stomach cancer.
More information on radiation therapy can be found in the “Radiation” section of our website, or in Understanding Radiation Therapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.
Last Revised: 02/10/2016