Radiation Therapy

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The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy or stop brain tumor growth.


When the term “radiation” is used to describe brain tumor treatment, it usually refers to conventional external beam radiation therapy, which is the most common form of radiation treatment for brain tumors. Other forms of radiation therapy are also available. Your doctor can tell you more about these other methods.



Radiation (also called x-rays, gamma rays, or photons) either kills tumor cells directly or interferes with their ability to grow. Radiation affects both normal cells and tumor cells. However, following standard doses of radiation, healthy cells repair themselves more quickly and completely than tumor cells. As the radiation treatments continue, an increasing number of tumor cells die. The tumor shrinks and the dead cells are broken down and disposed of by the immune system.


Radiation treatment success depends on several factors, the most significant of which are: the type of tumor being treated (some are more sensitive to radiation than others) and the size of the tumor (smaller tumors are usually more treatable than larger ones).



The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy or stop brain tumor growth. Radiation may be used after a biopsy, or following partial or complete removal of a brain tumor. When a tumor is removed, some microscopic tumor cells may remain. Radiation attempts to destroy these remaining cells.


Radiation is also used to treat tumors that cannot be surgically removed and tumors that have spread to the brain from other parts of the body (metastatic brain tumors). Radiation may also be used to prevent metastatic brain tumors from developing.


Sometimes radiation is used to relieve symptoms rather than eliminate the tumor. This is called palliative radiation.


How Radiation Therapy is Delivered

Radiation therapy may be given before, during, or after chemotherapy, or with drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to the radiation (radiosensitizers). In infants and young children, chemotherapy may be used to delay radiation therapy until the brain is more mature.


Radiation therapy usually is given on an outpatient basis. Radiation treatments are painless and feel no different than getting an x-ray. The patient must remain perfectly still until treatment is complete. Special equipment or medication can help infants and young children stay still. The total procedure—checking in, waiting , and receiving treatment—should take between 10 and 20 minutes. The treatment itself takes just a few minutes. A typical schedule for radiation therapy consists of one treatment per day, five days a week, for two to seven weeks.


Potiential Side Effects

Most people have some side effects from radiation therapy, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Skin changes
  • Swelling/edema
  • Nausea
  • Sexual effects (reduced desire)
  • Blood clots

Your doctor can provide more specific information about side effects of radiation.


It is important to note that the information provided here is basic and does not take the place of professional advice. If you have any questions about how brain tumors are treated, please contact your doctor.

View up-to-date radiology information for patients here.

Related Resources

Conventional Radiation Therapy

Conventional Radiation Therapy

An ABTA Publication

Radioterapia Convencional (Conventional Radiation Therapy)

Radioterapia Convencional (Conventional Radiation Therapy)

Una publicación de ABTA en español.