Bodies and organs are made up of units called cells. Radiation therapy works because the high dose of radiation damages cells and stops them from growing and dividing. Cancer cells are essentially abnormal cells living alongside healthy cells. Radiation therapy targets the area where the cancer is — or was — located, and aims to get rid of any abnormal cells present; in the process, normal cells are also impacted. The normal cells can repair themselves with time, but the cancer cells cannot repair themselves. The damage caused to the normal cells in the body is what causes the side effects associated with radiation therapy treatment.
By giving you a small dose of radiation each day, we are able to deliver a higher final dose. Small daily doses given as prescribed are enough to eliminate cancer cells. Smaller daily doses also ensure that the normal cells in the body can repair themselves, while the cancer cells are unable to. The aim is to give a high enough overall dose of radiation to kill the cancer cells while protecting the normal cells and keeping side effects to a minimum.
You will be given information leaflets and information about any potential side effects related to your treatment by your care team. Remember that everyone’s treatment plan is different, so the side effects will not be the same for everyone receiving radiation therapy.