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Stomach Cancer: Radiation Therapy

Stomach cancer may be treated with radiation therapy. It is also called radiotherapy. It works by directing strong X-rays at the cancer areas. This destroys cancer cells. A radiation oncologist will create a treatment plan for you. Each person’s treatment plan is different. Your plan will include the type of radiation you will have. It will also include how often and for how long you will have the treatment.

How radiation therapy helps

Radiation therapy can help treat stomach cancer in several ways:

  • It can shrink the cancer before surgery. This may help to make the surgery easier.

  • It can destroy any cancer cells that remain after surgery. For this goal, it is often used with anti-cancer drugs.

  • It can shrink cancer to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer. This may help lessen pain, bleeding, or trouble eating.

Side effects of radiation therapy

Radiation therapy affects normal cells, as well as cancer cells. This can cause side effects. The side effects depend on the amount and type of radiation. They may occur during treatment. And they may occur in the weeks or months after it. Side effects may include:

  • Irritation of the skin near the treatment area

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea or intestinal cramping

  • Blood in your stool

  • Feeling tired

  • Loss of hair, especially pubic hair

Talk with your health care providers about any side effects you have. They may be able to help lessen them.

Types of radiation therapy

The type of radiotherapy most often used to treat stomach cancer is external beam radiation therapy (ERBT). ERBT sends radiation from a machine outside the body. It is like getting an X-ray, except that it lasts longer.

There are 2 other methods of giving the treatment. They are:

  • Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal radiation therapy. This aims radiation from several directions. This can lessen the side effects on healthy tissue. 

  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT uses a computer to send radiation to specific areas. This also can lessen the side effects on healthy tissue.

Getting ready for radiation therapy

Before your first treatment, you’ll have an appointment to plan for the treatment. This is called simulation. During this appointment:

  • You’ll lie on a table while a radiation therapist uses a machine to find exactly where the radiation will be aimed. The therapist may mark your skin with tiny dots of permanent ink. These are used to aim the radiation at the exact same place each time.

  • You may also have CT scans or other imaging to help locate the cancer.

  • A plastic mold of your body may be made for some types of ERBT. The mold help you stay in the same position for each treatment.

What to expect for your treatment

You will receive ERBT at a hospital or clinic. You will likely not have to stay overnight. You may receive treatment 5 days a week. This may last for a few weeks or several months. The length of time depends on the type and dose of radiation advised by your radiation oncologist. Your radiation oncologist or nurse can tell you what to expect during and after treatment. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd
Last Review Date: 7/29/2014
© 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.