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What is the difference between chemotherapy and radiation therapy?

Lundberg colorAuthor: Dr. Joel Lundberg

Cancer has impacted nearly everyone in one way or another. Yet, despite cancer being the second leading cause of death in America, many people do not understand the difference between chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are two of the most effective treatment approaches for cancer. Until you have to undergo the treatment, it is difficult to understand the difference.

Chemotherapy refers to a chemical or drug given to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is prescribed by a medical oncologist. Because the chemo drug is given through an intravenous (IV) injection, it spreads throughout the entire bloodstream. This type of treatment is effective because it kills cancer cells that have spread beyond the initial affected tissue or organ. On the other hand, as the drug spreads through the bloodstream killing cancer cells, it also has effects on other rapidly dividing cells such as those in your blood, mouth, nose, nails, vagina, intestinal tract and hair. This can cause patients to feel ill after treatment and lose their hair.

Radiation therapy is a local high energy X-ray treatment, focusing only on the areas affected by cancer. Radiation treatments are prescribed by a radiation oncologist. The radiation does not travel through the bloodstream so it does not have systemic side effects. Typically, side effects caused by radiation will only affect the direct area that is treated. Radiation therapy is commonly used for treating cancer of the head and neck, breast, bladder, lung, prostate, brain and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Many of our patients receive a chemotherapy and radiation therapy combination to achieve the most effective treatment outcome. Patients at the Agnesian Cancer Center have the opportunity to see both a medical oncologist and radiation oncologist on the same day. It is best to consult an oncologist before deciding on the treatment best suited for you or your loved one. For more information, contact the Agnesian Cancer Center at (920) 926-4100.

About Agnesian HealthCare Cancer Care Services

Agnesian HealthCare Cancer Care Services brings cancer care closer to cancer patients. With offices in Fond du Lac, Ripon, and Waupun, there is no need to travel far to get the most advanced technology and treatment.

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