Radiation Therapy for Skin Cancer
How Does Radiation Therapy Work?
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy focuses radiation from outside the body on the skin tumor. This type of radiation therapy is used to treat some patients with melanoma.
Before treatments start, the radiation team will take careful measurements to determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. The treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, although the setup time—getting you into place for treatment—usually takes longer.
Melanoma Skin Cancer
Radiation therapy is not often used to treat the original melanoma that started on the skin. In some cases, it may be given after surgery (as an adjuvant) in the area where lymph nodes were removed, especially if many of the nodes contained cancer cells. This is to try to reduce the chance that the cancer will come back.
Radiation therapy may also be used to treat melanoma that has come back (recurred) after surgery, either in the skin or lymph nodes, or to treat distant spread of the disease.
Radiation therapy is often used to relieve symptoms caused by the spread of the melanoma, especially to the brain or bones. Treatment with the goal of relieving symptoms is called palliative therapy. Palliative radiation therapy is not expected to cure the cancer, but it might help shrink it for a time to control some of the symptoms.
Radiation Therapy Side Effects
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on where it is aimed. They might include sunburn-like skin problems and hair loss where the radiation enters the body, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Often these go away after treatment.