Radiation therapy for CUP
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill or damage cancer cells. The radiation is usually in the form of x-ray beams. Most people with CUP have radiation therapy to relieve symptoms, such as pain, bleeding, difficulty swallowing, bowel blockages, shortness of breath, and tumours pressing on blood vessels or nerves or within bones.
Learn more about:
- Having radiation therapy
- Number of sessions
- Side effects of radiation therapy
- Video: What is radiation therapy?
Having radiation therapy
People with CUP are most likely to have external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), which is given from a machine outside the body. To help plan treatment, you will usually have a CT scan of the treatment area. To ensure that the same area is treated each time, the radiation therapist will make a few small dots (tattoos) on your skin that may be temporary or permanent. Radiation treatments are painless, although it can be uncomfortable lying on a hard treatment table.
Number of sessions
The total number of treatments and when you have them will depend on your situation. You might need only a single treatment, or you may need them every weekday for several weeks.
If squamous cell carcinoma spreads to the lymph nodes (e.g. in the neck or groin area) you may be offered a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This treatment is known as chemoradiation. It may be given for up to 7 weeks.
Side effects of radiation therapy
The side effects will depend on the area of the body being treated and the dose of radiation. The most common side effect is fatigue. Nausea or altered sense of taste can sometimes occur. Your skin may become dry and itchy in the area treated, look red or sunburnt and feel sore.
Side effects tend to develop as you go through radiation therapy, and most improve or go away in the weeks after you finish treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse about ways to manage any side effects you have.
Video: What is radiation therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, and Director, Clinical Research in Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Amey Aurangabadkar, Radiologist, Illawarra Radiology Group, NSW; Clare Brophy, Consumer; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, NSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Network, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Wendy Cooper, Senior Staff Specialist, Tissue Pathology and Diagnostic Oncology, NSW Health Pathology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Chloe Georgiou, Oncology Research Fellow, Australian Rare Cancer Portal, and Oncology Trials Fellow, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Susan Harden, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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