Radiation therapy for CUP
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, uses targeted radiation to kill or damage cancer cells. The radiation is usually in the form of x-ray beams.
Most people with cancer of unknown primary (CUP) have radiation therapy to relieve symptoms, such as bleeding, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, blockages in the bowel, tumours pressing on blood vessels or nerves, and pain caused by cancer spreading to the bones.
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Types of 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 have an x-ray or 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. 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.
Some people with localised squamous cell carcinoma in the lymph nodes of the neck may be offered a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This treatment is known as chemoradiation. It may be given for up to seven 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.
Radiation therapy can also make your skin dry and itchy in the area treated. Your skin may look red or sunburnt and feel sore – talk to your radiation therapy team about creams and other ways to manage this.
Side effects tend to develop as you go through treatment, and most improve or go away in the weeks after treatment is finished. Talk to your doctor or nurse about ways to manage them.
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 Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Clinical Researcher, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Christine Bradfield, Consumer; Cindy Bryant, Consumer; Dr Maria Cigolini, Head, Department of Palliative Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and Clinical Lecturer, The University of Sydney, NSW; Mary Duffy, Advanced Practice Nurse and Nurse Coordinator, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Siobhan O’Neill, Medical Oncologist, Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre, NSW; Prof Penelope Schofield, Department of Psychological Sciences and the Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology, and Head, Behavioural Science in Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Frank Stoss, Consumer.
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