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    Radiation Therapy for Cancer Pain

    Radiation Therapy for Cancer Pain

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    Treatment Overview

    Radiation therapy is the use of X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation damages the genetic material of cells in the area being treated, leaving the cells unable to continue to grow. Although radiation damages normal cells as well as cancer cells, the normal cells can repair themselves. The cancer cells cannot.

    Radiation is also used to control pain by destroying a growing tumor that is invading or interfering with normal tissue, such as when a tumor presses on bones, nerves, or other organs. This may be done with radiation to part of the body or, in rare cases, with radiation to the whole body. Or you may be given a shot with a radioactive medicine.

    What To Expect After Treatment

    Radiation therapy can reduce pain by shrinking a tumor. And for cancer that has spread to the bones, walking and moving around may be less painful. footnote 1

    Why It Is Done

    Radiation therapy is used to control pain when a growing tumor invades or interferes with normal tissues, such as bones, nerves, or other organs.

    How Well It Works

    Radiation therapy can reduce pain. One or more treatments may be needed to relieve pain.


    Side effects are common with radiation therapy and may depend on what area of the body receives radiation. Side effects typically go away after radiation therapy is over. Side effects can include:

    • Fatigue.
    • Hair loss near the treated area.
    • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
    • Loss of appetite.
    • Painful urination.
    • Skin darkening in the area exposed to a beam of radiation, which can be permanent.
    • Sore throat (with neck or chest radiation).
    • Vaginal dryness in women and erection problems in men (with pelvic radiation).

    What To Think About

    While radiation therapy may not cure the cancer that is causing pain, it may reduce symptoms and slow the spread of the disease.

    Complete the special treatment information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.



    1. National Cancer Institute (2013). Pain PDQ - Patient Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/pain/Patient.


    ByHealthwise Staff
    Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
    Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
    Specialist Medical Reviewer Jimmy Ruiz, MD - Hematology, Oncology

    Current as ofDecember 29, 2016

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