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Radiation for Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Radiation therapy is also called radiotherapy. It is another way to treat soft tissue sarcomas. A combination of surgery and radiation is a common way to treat this cancer.

The goal of radiation is to kill cancer cells by directing strong X-rays at the tumor. You see a radiation oncologist for this. He or she decides how often you need radiation and at what dose.

In some cases, your doctor may want you to get radiation before surgery to try to make the tumor smaller. Before surgery, it's likely you'll get external beam treatments. External beam radiation comes from a machine outside of the body. You get it at a hospital or clinic 5 days a week for several weeks. The treatments last only a couple of minutes and are painless.

In some cases, your doctor will want you to have radiation after surgery to try to make sure that any cancer cells that may have been left after surgery are all killed. When you get radiation after surgery, the doctor may use external beam or internal radiation. Internal radiation is also called brachytherapy. For brachytherapy, the doctor places a catheter or implant of radioactive material right next to the area in which the cancer has been removed. Brachytherapy is used far less often than external beam radiation to treat soft tissue sarcoma.

If surgery is not a good idea for you (for health or other reasons), your doctor may use radiation as the main treatment to kill cancer cells.

Potential side effects of radiation for soft tissue sarcoma

Radiation affects both normal cells and cancer cells. This means it can cause side effects. What they are depends on what part of your body is treated.

These are some common side effects of radiation:

  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness that doesn't get better with rest)

  • Skin changes (these usually go away over time)

  • Problems with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, if your stomach area got radiation

  • Shortness of breath, if you had radiation near your lungs

  • Swelling, pain, or weakness if you had radiation on large areas of the arm or leg. Your doctor may have you use a pressure garment to reduce these symptoms.

  • Increased risk of sunburn. Avoid direct sun exposure or use sunscreen for a period of time during and after radiation.

Long-term side effects of radiation depend on the part of the body being treated. Ask your doctor or nurse to review all of the potential short- and long-term side effects with you. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brown, Kim, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 2/5/2014
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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