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External and Internal Radiation Therapy for Oral Cancer

There are a few ways to have radiation. You may receive external radiation, internal radiation, or both. Your radiation oncologist maps out your treatment plan in coordination with the radiation therapy team.1 Then a radiation therapist gives you the radiation.2,3

External Radiation

With this type, radiation comes as a beam from a machine.1 It’s directed to the tumor and the area close to it.1 Radiation is painless while you get it.3 But it usually causes some temporary damage to the normal cells in your mouth and throat, which can be painful.3 External radiation is usually given once or twice a day for five days a week.1 This is done for several weeks.1 You can have it performed on an outpatient basis,2 which means you don’t need to stay the night in the hospital.1 External radiation will not make you radioactive.2

Internal Radiation

This type of radiation is also called brachytherapy.2 Doctors insert radioactive material in seeds, needles, or thin plastic tubes into your body near the tumor.1 You may need to stay in the hospital for a few days while you get the brachytherapy.2 Only the area around the implanted material will become radioactive.2

1 “What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer: Treatment.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, September 8, 2004. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/oral/page8#b Accessed 2010.

2 “Radiation Therapy for Cancer: Questions and Answers.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, June 30, 2010. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation Accessed 2010.

3 “Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People with Cancer, Questions and Answers About Radiation Therapy.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, April 20, 2007. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/radiation-therapy-and-you/page2 Accessed 2010.

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