Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses powerful high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.  Radiation may come from outside the body (external) or from radioactive materials placed directly inside the tumor (implant).  Most often external radiation is used.  The radiation is aimed at the tumor, and kills the cancer cells only in that area of the lungs.  External radiation is usually given in daily doses for a period of weeks, although this depends upon the type and stage of the lung cancer.

Radiation can be used before surgery to shrink the tumor.  It may also be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells left in the lungs.  Sometimes external radiation is used as the main type of lung cancer treatment, especially for people who may not be healthy enough to have surgery or whose cancer has spread to far to have surgery.  Radiation can also be used to relieve symptoms cause by the cancer, such as pain, bleeding or blockage of airways by the tumor.

Side effects of external radiation may include mild skin reactions, nausea, tiredness, pain, and a cough.  Usually these go away after a while.  Radiation to the chest may cause lung damage and difficulty with breathing.  Radiation to other parts of the body where lung cancer may have spread can also have side effects.

Again, be sure you discuss any concerns you may have about radiation and possible side effects before, during and after your treatment cycles, and especially any effects that you do experience.


Early detection of lung cancer can increase survival rates. Call the Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA or talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening.