Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy uses radiation delivered from outside the body that is focused on the cancer. Radiation therapy is sometimes used as the main treatment for kidney cancer for patients whose general health is too poor to undergo surgery. Radiation therapy can also be used to temporarily palliate or ease symptoms of kidney cancer such as pain, bleeding or problems caused by metastasis. Unfortunately, renal cell cancer is not very sensitive to radiation and while the growth of cancer can be slowed, it cannot be entirely eliminated.
Currently, the use of radiation therapy before or after removing the cancer is not routinely recommended because clinical studies have not shown any improvement in patient outcomes.
Side effects of radiation therapy may include mild skin changes (similar to sunburn), nausea, diarrhea, or tiredness. Often these go away after a short time. Chest radiation therapy may cause lung damage and lead to difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. Side effects of brain radiation therapy usually become most serious one or two years after treatment and can include headache and difficulty thinking.
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