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Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses strong X-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used on its own, or along with other types of treatment.

How is radiation therapy given?

For nonmelanoma skin cancer, electron beam radiation is often used. This type of radiation does not go deeper than the skin. This helps limit side effects. The radiation damages the cancer cells and stops them from growing and dividing. Radiation therapy is a local therapy. This means that it affects the cancer cells only in the treated area. It does not go throughout the body.

When is radiation therapy used for nonmelanoma skin cancer?

Your doctor may advise radiation therapy for any of these reasons:

  • You’re unable to have surgery due to a health condition, such as bleeding problems.

  • The cancer is in an area that makes it hard to remove with surgery, such as your eyelid, nose, or ear.

  • The tumor is large, which makes it hard to remove.

  • You’ve had surgery, but you have an increased risk of the cancer coming back.

Before treatment

A specialist called a radiation oncologist creates your treatment plan. The plan shows what kind of radiation you’ll have and how long the treatment will last. This doctor can also prepare you for how you may feel during and after the treatment.

Once your radiation oncologist has mapped out your treatment plan, a radiation therapist gives you the radiation. You may have this treatment as an outpatient. This means you go home the same day of treatment.

Possible side effects

Radiation therapy affects nearby normal cells as well as cancer cells. The side effects of radiation depend on the amount and the type of radiation you get, as well as the area of the body being treated. Most of these side effects will get better or go away over time after you finish treatment.

Side effects can include:              

  • Red, dry, burning, or irritated skin in the area being treated

  • Risk of infection

  • A rash in the area being treated

  • Hair loss in the area being treated

When to call your healthcare provider               

Call your doctor if you have side effects that are causing a lot of discomfort.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2019
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