What Is Radiation Therapy?
Treatment for Skin Cancer
Radiation therapy is treatment with high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. The radiation is focused from outside the body onto the skin tumor. When radiation is used to treat cancers on the skin, it is often done with electron beam radiation.
This type of treatment uses electrons, which do not go deeper than the skin. This helps limit the side effects in other parts of the body. The treatment is much like getting an x-ray but stronger. Each treatment is painless and lasts only a few minutes, although the setup time – getting you into place for treatment – takes longer.
Radiation may be used as the main/primary treatment instead of surgery if the tumor is very large, or if it is in an area that makes surgery hard to do. It might also be used for people who, because of poor health, cannot have surgery. In some cases, radiation can be used after surgery as additional (adjuvant) therapy to kill small groups of cancer cells that may not be seen during surgery. This lowers the risk of cancer coming back after surgery.
Radiation may also be used to treat non-melanoma skin cancer that has spread to lymph nodes or other organs. Side effects of radiation can include skin irritation, redness, dryness, and hair loss in the area being treated.
With longer treatment, these side effects may get worse. After many years, new skin cancers may start in areas that had been treated with radiation. Because of this, radiation is not usually done to treat skin cancer in young people.