What is systemic radiation therapy?

Systemic Radiation Therapy

What is systemic radiation therapy for cancer?

Radiation treatment uses radioactive material to kill cancer cells or to keep them from growing. In systemic treatment, the material is given by mouth or injection. It travels in the blood throughout the body and targets cancer cells. Then the radiation leaves the body through body fluids.

Systemic treatment is painless. But it can cause some side effects. These include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most side effects usually go away after the treatment ends. But you may feel very tired for 4 to 6 weeks afterward. Your doctor can help treat the side effects. The treatment may also lower the number of certain blood cells in your body. Your doctor will watch your blood cell counts.

Before and during treatment, get plenty of rest. Eat healthy foods to keep your strength up. Your doctor will tell you what activities you can do during treatment.

What can you expect as you recover from systemic radiation therapy for cancer?

Your body will give off radiation for a short time after treatment. It will be in body fluids like sweat, saliva, urine, and stools (bowel movements). Your doctor will tell you how to protect other people from the radiation from your body. Follow those directions carefully. They will probably include instructions to:

  • Limit your contact with people, especially children and anyone who is pregnant.
  • Use separate towels, plates, and utensils.
  • Use a separate toilet if possible for 3 to 5 days.
  • Close the toilet lid before you flush.
  • Wash your hands well after you use the toilet.
  • Drink lots of water to help flush the material from your body.

Call your doctor if you have any questions about your instructions.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.