Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.

Radiation Therapy for Cancer Pain

Treatment Overview

Radiation can be used to control pain by destroying a growing tumor that is invading or interfering with normal tissue, such as when a tumor presses on bones, nerves, or other organs. This may be done with radiation to part of the body or, in rare cases, with radiation to the whole body. Or you may be given a shot with a radioactive medicine.

Radiation therapy is the use of X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation damages the cells in the area being treated, stopping or slowing the growth of the cancer cells.

Why It Is Done

Radiation therapy is used to control pain when a growing tumor invades or interferes with normal tissues, such as bones, nerves, or other organs.

Side Effects

Side effects are common with radiation therapy and may depend on what area of the body receives radiation. Side effects can include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • A cough or chest pain.
  • Pain in the mouth or esophagus, especially with swallowing.
  • Skin near the treatment area may look and feel like a sunburn.
  • A flare-up of pain that lasts for a few days. This is common with treatment for bone tumors.

Side effects can be treated with pain medicines and anti-nausea medicines. They usually go away 4 to 6 weeks after treatments are done. Long-term side effects are uncommon.

How Well It Works

Radiation therapy can reduce pain by shrinking a tumor. And for cancer that has spread to the bones, walking and moving around may be less painful after this treatment. One or more treatments may be needed to relieve pain.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Jimmy Ruiz MD - Hematology, Oncology