What You Need to Know About Radiation Treatment for Seniors

Get all the facts about radiation treatment so that you can make the best decision.

Radiation treatment in seniors can be a scary thought. Not only are there different types of radiation, but it kills good cells in addition to cancerous ones. Therefore, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of radiation for the elderly.

Why Radiation Treatment for Seniors?

Radiation therapy is one of the more aggressive forms of cancer treatment. It is often given to seniors in an attempt to wipe out the cancer cells in one shot. Many seniors and their families grow concerned regarding radiation due to its harsh effects on the body, combined with the weak constitution of some geriatrics. However, it is still considered an acceptable, and often positive form, of cancer treatment.

How It Works

Radiation treatment for seniors works by administering high-energy waves (like an X-ray) into the body. It attempts to damage cells by controlling how they grow and divide. Unfortunately, healthy cells must be destroyed along with cancerous ones in order for treatment to work, but cancerous cells are eliminated at a more rapid pace than healthy ones, making it possible for radiation treatment to not damage too many healthy cells in the process. This is important to remember if you have radiation treatment recommended to you.

There are pros and cons to any aggressive therapy; however, radiation is done as minimally as possible with health taken into consideration.

There are a few reasons why radiation treatment for seniors is recommended. Sometimes it is to shrink down the size of a tumor before operating, and it can also be used during surgery to help reduce the tumor's size. It is most commonly used in combination with chemotherapy to give the cancer a double whammy and ensure the patient a great chance at a full recovery.

Different Types of Radiation

There are a few different genres of radiation you may be informed about or asked to consider.

Internal Radiation

This form of radiation is used when your doctor is attempting to focus the radiation on a small area. Radiation is administered inside the body through tubes or capsules that can either go inside the actual tumor or rest near it. The implants are usually inserted during a surgery, but it can vary.

Liquid radiation is another form of internal radiation, which is administered intravenously. You are almost always an inpatient at a hospital during internal radiation treatments, due to the risk of exposing others to radiation, and also because it can be a lengthy process that weakens your body and diminishes your energy.

External Radiation

External radiation is the previously mentioned treatment of using machines with beams to penetrate through your skin to the tumor. It works best with cancer that is found in large portions of the body, and you don't have to stay overnight in the hospital for it. Some people compare external radiation to being x-rayed, as you lay down during the procedure and your body is "scanned." Different types of energy are administered based upon the size, intensity, and location of your tumor.

Side Effects

Unfortunately, all radiation treatment has side effects patients would be much happier without. Some common side effects include hair loss and skin irritation, difficulty swallowing, nausea, diarrhea, and issues with urination. As radiation treatment evolves and improves, these side effects will hopefully be diminished, but for now they are a harsh reality all seniors receiving treatment should be warned about.


Radiation therapy is a great resource for seniors in the battle against cancer. While frightening, hope for survival is a strong reality, and with time the chances are becoming even better. Do more research into your type of cancer and successful treatments.

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What You Need to Know About Radiation Treatment for Seniors