External Beam Radiation Therapy

In external beam radiation therapy, radiation is produced by a machine called a linear accelerator. Short bursts of x-rays are fired from the machine at your cancer. The x-rays come out in square shapes. The radiation oncologist designs special blocks to shape the radiation beam so that it treats the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible.

Your radiation oncologist may also use some of the newer techniques, such as intensity modulated therapy (IMRT) and conformal treatment planning, to further localize and restrict the delivery of radiation to your tumor.

Radiation of a Tumor

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Like chemotherapy, the side effects from radiation result from injury to the normal tissues. There are many new ways that the radiation oncologist can customize your treatment to try to kill as much cancer while sparing as much normal tissue as possible.

The radiation oncologist will determine how many treatments you will receive; sometimes they will be once a day and sometimes twice per day. Each treatment generally only takes a few minutes, and the total treatment time can range from 3-5 weeks depending on the total dose required.

Radiation therapy can be given to treat cancer at its initial site or once it has spread. In some cases, once cancer has spread, radiation is no longer curative. However, the treatments can help resolve problems that the cancer may be causing, including pain and weakness.

Many people believe that once you have received a certain dose of radiation you can no longer get any more treatment. It is true that each tissue in the body can only safely tolerate a certain dose of radiation. However, the therapy is very focused, and it is possible that you can get additional treatments to an already treated area, or certainly to an area not yet treated. Ask your radiation oncologist about what dose you can safely receive.

Radiation therapy after surgery is considered the standard of care in the management of seminomas but may also be used in treating nonseminomatous tumors, depending on type, extent, and stage.

After you have healed from the surgery, you will come to the radiation oncology department where the doctors will plan your treatment using x-rays and computers. This procedure entails lying on a table in a room with a special x-ray machine.

The doctor and therapist will put marks on your skin to set up the radiation beam. They will often place your scrotum, with the remaining testicle, into a lead device called a “clamshell.” This is designed to protect your other testicle from getting any radiation. This will protect you as much as possible from becoming completely sterile.

Because a significant amount of your pelvis and abdomen will get a radiation dose, you may develop some nausea and vomiting about 1-2 hours after each radiation treatment. Your doctor can give you medication to help with this.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider if you:

  • Develop side effects from the treatment
  • Develop any new or unusual symptoms
  • Notice that your skin is red, blistered, or swollen