Radiation treatment

Radiation treatment treats cancer by using X-ray beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment can be offered when lung cancer cannot be managed by surgery and has not spread outside the chest. Radiation treatment can also be used to treat cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes within the chest. It is often given together with chemotherapy if the aim of treatment is to try to cure the cancer.

It can also be used:

  • to treat a small, early stage lung cancer, where the patient is not able to have an operation
  • after surgery to treat sites where cancer was unexpectedly found and, possibly, not completely removed to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back
  • as palliative treatment to treat cancer that has spread to other organs such as the brain or bones
  • as palliative treatment to the chest, to reduce symptoms, improve your quality of life or extend your life (see "Palliative care")
  • to the brain as part of the treatment plan for small cell lung cancer—PCI.

To plan radiation treatment, the radiation therapist will take a CT scan of the treatment area. To ensure that the same area is treated each time, the radiation therapist will make a few small marks (tattoos) on your skin that will be aimed at during each treatment session.

During treatment, you will lie on a treatment bench (very similar to a CT bench). A machine delivering radiation will be positioned around you. The treatment session itself will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Radiation treatment is painless and there is no sensation of heat. The radiation therapist giving you the treatment will make you as comfortable as possible.

For more information, call the nurses on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).

For a copy of Radiation Treatment/Haumanu Iraruke read the booklet on the Society's website or contact your local Cancer Society for a copy.

Side effects of radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is not painful. There are possible side effects, which may gradually develop during a long course of treatment or soon after a short course.

These can be temporary or permanent. It is important to discuss any side effects with your cancer treatment team who can advise you on what to expect and how to manage these effects.

Side effects may include:

  • tiredness
  • skin irritation
  • not wanting to eat
  • nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting
  • sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • breathlessness
  • chest pain.

Radiation treatment may be used to treat many areas of the body as well as the chest. It is particularly useful for relieving pain if lung cancer has spread to affect the bones.