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What to Know About Radiation Therapy for Anal Cancer

Radiation therapy is one way to treat anal cancer. This treatment is also called radiotherapy. It uses X-rays to control the growth of cancer cells. Radiation is a local treatment. That means it affects the cancer cells only in the area treated.

Getting radiation and chemotherapy together may be a better treatment for anal cancer than radiation alone.

For this treatment, you see a radiation oncologist. This doctor specializes in the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. This doctor decides how often you need radiation and at what dose.

There are 2 types of radiation. For external radiation, you get radiation externally from a machine outside your body. The experience is a lot like getting an X-ray, but it takes longer. It is usually given 5 days a week for several weeks. 

For internal radiation, the doctor places the radiation inside you. He or she places a source, such as radioactive pellets, in or near the cancer.

For anal cancer, internal radiation is used much less often than external radiation. When internal radiation therapy is used, it's usually given along with external radiation therapy.

Potential side effects of radiation therapy for anal cancer

Radiation affects both normal cells and cancer cells. This means it can cause side effects. Here are some common side effects of radiation for people with anal cancer:

  • Skin irritation, itching, or burning

  • Diarrhea, sometimes with some rectal bleeding

  • Nausea and vomiting 

  • Sexual changes 

  • Urinary urgency

  • Bladder pain

  • Tiredness or fatigue

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 1/2/2014
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.