Radiation Therapy for Adrenal Cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays (or particles) to kill cancer cells. 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.

Types of radiation therapy

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. Treatment is similar to getting an x-ray test, and is not painful. The actual treatment time lasts only a few minutes, although the setup time - getting you into place for treatment - usually takes longer so that the radiation is aimed accurately at the cancer. Before the treatment starts, the radiation team will take careful measurements to find the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. This planning session, called simulation, usually includes getting imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans.

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 carncer.

Possible side effects

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
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood counts

More information can be found in Radiation Therapy.

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Last Medical Review: December 29, 2017 Last Revised: January 2, 2018

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