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How is radiation used to treat gastrointestinal cancer?

Daniel Labow, MD
Surgical Oncology

Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, consists of using strategically aimed doses of radiation to kill cancer cells. Performed by a specialist known as a radiation oncologist, radiation therapy destroys the cancer cells directly in its line of fire as well as any healthy cells within its aim. Because of this it cannot be used to treat large areas of the body. Common side effects include:

•fatigue
•diarrhea
•loss of appetite

Most, however, go away after radiation treatment is completed.

Kenneth T. Bastin, MD
Radiation Oncology

There are different types of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, including disease that arises from the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum. Each location may be treated differently with radiation. In almost all cases, however, radiation for GI cancers is combined with chemotherapy and surgery. In some cases of rectal cancer, we will combine chemotherapy with radiation, followed by surgery. The clinical details and location of the cancer determine the best way of treating the disease.

Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgery

Radiotherapy has a role both in the neoadjuvant (pre-surgery), adjuvant (post-surgery) and palliative setting with some GI malignancies. Specifically, gastric and rectal. The role in small bowel and large intestine is very limited.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.