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Adrenal Cancer: Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. A large machine directs the beams at the cancer to kill the cancer cells. When the radiation comes from a machine outside the body, it's called external beam radiation.

When is radiation therapy used to treat adrenal cancer?

Radiation is rarely the main treatment for adrenal cancer. This type of cancer tends to be hard to kill with radiation. But radiation therapy may be used after surgery to help keep adrenal cancer from coming back later. It may also be used to treat other body parts where the tumor has spread. It’s sometimes used to help control pain caused by tumor growth.

Deciding on a radiation treatment plan

You'll work with a radiation oncologist to make your radiation treatment plan. This is a doctor who specializes in both cancer and radiation. This doctor decides:

  • The goal of radiation therapy

  • The type of radiation that's best for you

  • The radiation dose

  • How long treatment should last

It may help to bring a family member or friend with you to appointments. Make a list of questions and concerns you want to talk about. During your visit, ask what you can expect to feel like during and after treatment.

What to expect during radiation therapy

Radiation is often given once a day, 5 days a week, for a certain number of weeks. The treatment is done by a radiation therapist. You'll likely get it as an outpatient. This means you go in, get treatment, and go home the same day.

Radiation treatment is a lot like getting an X-ray. The radiation comes from a large machine. The machine doesn't touch you during the treatment. Treatments don't hurt and they're quick.

Before you start treatment, imaging scans will be done to know exactly where the cancer is. This is done so the radiation beams can be focused there. Tiny tattooed dots may be put on your skin to mark the treatment area. This is done to be sure that each radiation treatment is focused on the tumor, and not healthy parts of your body.

On the day of treatment, you're carefully put into the right position. You may see lights from the machine lined up with the marks on your skin. These help the radiation therapist know you are in the right position. The therapist will leave the room while the machine sends radiation to your tumor. During this time, they can see you, hear you, and talk with you.

You will need to be very still when the machine sends radiation to your tumor. But you don’t have to hold your breath.

The process will likely take less than an hour. Most of it is spent getting you ready. Treatment itself takes only a few minutes.

Side effects of radiation therapy

Talk with your doctor about what side effects you can expect and what can be done to prevent or manage them. Ask your doctor what symptoms to watch for. In some cases, you should call your healthcare team. For instance, your doctor may want you to call if you have signs of infection. These include fever or pain that gets worse.

Side effects of radiation can include:

  • Upset stomach (nausea)

  • Diarrhea

  • Skin irritation (like a bad sunburn) in the treatment area

  • Hair loss in the treated area

  • Loss of appetite

  • Severe tiredness (fatigue)

  • Low blood counts

Often these side effects start a few weeks into treatment. They go away over time after treatment is over. Many side effects can be helped with certain medicines.

Talk with your healthcare provider about other problems to look for and when to call them. Know what number to call with questions or problems. Find out if there is a different number after office hours, on weekends, and on holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2021
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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