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Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (such as x-rays) or particles to kill cancer cells. It's a key part of soft tissue sarcoma treatment.
Radiation can be the main treatment for sarcoma in someone who isn't healthy enough to have surgery. Radiation therapy can also be used to help ease symptoms of sarcoma when it has spread. This is called palliative treatment.
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on the part of the body treated and the dose given. Common side effects include:
Radiation of large areas of an arm or leg can cause swelling, pain, and weakness in that limb.
Side effects of radiation therapy to the brain for metastatic sarcoma include hair loss (in this case, it can be permanent), headaches, and problems thinking.
If given before surgery, radiation may cause problems with wound healing. If given after surgery, it can cause long-term stiffness and swelling that can affect how well the limb works.
Many side effects improve or even go away after radiation is finished. Some though, like bone weakness and lung damage, can be permanent.
After surgery, some high-grade sarcomas may be treated with radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. This is called chemoradiation.
This may also be done before surgery in cases where the sarcoma cannot be removed or removing it would cause major damage. Sometimes, chemoradiation can shrink the tumor enough to take care of these issues so it can be removed.
Chemoradiation can cause major side effects. And not all experts agree on its value in treating sarcoma. Radiation alone after surgery seems to works as well as chemoradiation. Still for some cases, this may be a treatment option to consider.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Helman LJ, Maki RG. Sarcomas of soft tissue. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE. Abeloff‘s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA. Elsevier: 2014: 1753-1791.
Lehane C, Ho F, Thompson SR, et al. Neoadjuvant chemoradiation (modified Eilber protocol) versus adjuvant radiotherapy in the treatment of extremity soft tissue sarcoma. J Med Imaging Radiat Oncol. 2016;60(4):539-544.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Soft Tissue Sarcoma, Version 1.2018 -- October 31, 2017. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/sarcoma.pdf on March 30, 2018.
Nesseler JP, Salleron J, Rios M, et al. A retrospective cohort study to assess adjuvant concurrent chemoradiation (CCRT) compared to adjuvant radiation therapy (RT) in the treatment of grade 2 and 3 extremity soft tissue sarcomas. Radiother Oncol. 2017;125(1):160-167.
Singer S, Maki R, O’Sullivan B. Soft tissue sarcoma In: DeVita VT, Heilman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011:1533-1577.
Last Revised: April 6, 2018