Radiation treatment (radiotherapy)

Radiation is used to treat some cancers. A radiotherapist is the person who performs the radiation treatment. They target the cancer cells with radiation to destroy them.

Radiation treatment does affect healthy cells as well. But unlike the cancer cells, healthy cells can recover.

There are two kinds of radiation treatment.

  • External beam treatment, which uses a targeted beam of radiation to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Internal radiation treatment. This is treatment with either:
    • a radioactive implant (brachytherapy) placed next to or within the cancer cells
    • a radioactive liquid which you drink or are injected with.

Radiation treatment can also be used to control symptoms, or to shrink or slow the growth of cancer. This doesn’t cure the cancer, but it can reduce pain and improve your quality of life, or allow the cancer to be removed with surgery later.

Safety of radiation treatment

Side effects

Radiation treatment has side effects. These may show up while you are being treated, or they may show up years later.

Radiation treatment can also increase your chances of getting cancer again in the future.

To find out more about how radiation treatment can affect you, visit the Cancer Society website.

Being around others

You may be worried about whether or not it’s safe for others to be around you when you’re receiving radiation treatment.

With external beam treatment, you’re not made radioactive. So it’s safe for others to be near you.

With internal radiation treatment, you may have to stay away from others during and for a few days after your treatment. Your doctor will let you know if this is the case.


Find out more from the Ministry

The Ministry sets codes of safe practice for radiation use. Radiation users must comply with these codes to be licenced.

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