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Adrenal Cancer: Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. A machine directs the energy rays to the area of cancer. The energy kills cancer cells. When the radiation comes from a machine outside the body, it is called external beam radiation.

When is radiation therapy used to treat adrenal cancer?

Radiation is not often the main treatment for adrenal cancer. That’s because this type of cancer tends to be resistant to radiation. But radiation therapy may be used after surgery to help keep adrenal cancer from returning. It may also be used to treat other body parts where the tumor has spread. It’s sometimes used to help control pain due to tumor growth.

Deciding on a radiation treatment plan

You will work with a radiation oncologist for your 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 you need

  • The dose you need

  • How long you need treatment

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 will likely be able to 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. The treatments don't hurt and they are quick.

Before you start treatment, imaging scans will be done in the area of your cancer. This is done to measure the exact location of the tumor so the radiation beams can be focused there. Small marks may be put on your skin to mark the treatment area. This makes sure that the radiation reaches the tumor, and not healthy parts of your body.

On the day of treatment, you are 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, he or she can see you, hear you, and talk to you.

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

The process will likely take less than an hour.

Side effects of radiation therapy

Talk to your doctor about what side effects you can expect and what can be done to prevent or ease them. Ask your doctor what symptoms to watch out for. In some cases, you should call your healthcare team. For example, 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 in the treatment area

  • Hair loss in the treated area

  • Loss of appetite

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

  • Low blood counts

Often these side effects go away slowly 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, including after office hours, on weekends, and on holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2018
© 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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