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Treating Bladder Cancer: Radiation

Radiation is a way of treating cancer. Radiation uses beams of energy to destroy cancer cells. The cancer cells die and healthy cells take their place. Radiation may be used alone or with chemotherapy, and may be done after surgery.

Man lying on back on table under radiation machine. Two health care providers are standing next to table.

Destroying Cancer Cells with Radiation

Your radiation oncologist designs a treatment plan for you. This plan is based on an evaluation of your disease and overall health. Radiation may be directed at the bladder itself and other areas to which the cancer may have spread.

During Treatment

You’re asked to change into a gown. A technician positions you on the table. Short doses of radiation are aimed at the target areas. The treatment is not painful. Each treatment lasts a few minutes and is usually given once a day, 5 days a week, for several weeks. Because some nearby tissue is affected, you may have side effects.

After Treatment

You can return to your normal activities soon after each visit. You may still notice some side effects after your full course of treatment has ended. These usually clear up within a few weeks.

 

Short-Term Side Effects

  • Mild to moderate diarrhea

  • Bladder irritation (burning, frequent urination)

  • Mild fatigue (low energy)

  • Some loss of pubic hair and skin changes (often like a sunburn) in the treated area

  • Blood in the urine

  • Rectal irritation or bleeding (rare)

 

Risks and Possible Complications

  • Continued bladder irritation

  • Loss of bladder function

  • Impotence (problems with erections)

  • Bleeding from bladder (rare)

  • Permanent damage to intestine or rectum (rare)

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sarah, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 12/31/2013
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