Learn More Facts About Lung Cancer Radiation

Coping with Lung Cancer Radiation

Treatment options for early and advanced stage lung cancers include surgery, chemotherapy, and lung cancer radiation. Radiotherapy is the use of measured doses of internal or external radiation for killing malignant cells or shrinking tumors. Currently, external methods of delivery are the most common and effective. Ongoing clinical trials are testing methods of delivering high dosage energy to precise locations.


Radioactive energy is used to stop cancerous cells from metastasizing. The high doses of radiation will disrupt cell DNA so they can not divide. Healthy cells are affected at the same time but are better equipped to recover from the damage.

An oncologist may choose to implement this treatment for any type of lung cancer. It is useful for both non-small-cell (NSCLC) and small-cell (SCLC) cancers in early and advanced stages. In early-stage NSCLC, radiotherapy may follow surgical resection of cancerous tissue. In late-stage SCLC, targeted internal or external radioactive energy may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy to prolong life and ease symptoms.

Patients are often given radioactive doses daily for several weeks. Oncologists carefully mark the location to be irradiated and calculate dosages in ‘Gy’ or ‘grays’. Two types predominate external beam and internal or ‘brachytherapy’.

External radiotherapy can be a first line treatment choice. It is delivered by a machine as two-dimensional or with the aid of three-dimensional computed tomography. Brachytherapy delivers radioactive pellets through a tube inserted into the affected area.

Side Effects

Radiation is sometimes used to shrink a malignant growth to make it easier to remove surgically. Patients contemplating this treatment method need to understand the side effects associated with it. A patient may be able to continue normal activities at the beginning of therapy. However, the high energy doses have a cumulative effect, which will fatigue the individual as the course progresses.

Aside from fatigue, the skin becomes irritated and will begin peeling within a few days. This condition is treated with skin creams and must be given careful attention. While a skin condition can begin to heal after the last dose of radiation, fatigue will remain as long as the residual radioactive energy stays in the body.