Palliative radiation therapy can be used to help shrink an advanced cancer, or to control symptoms and provide a better quality of life.
Palliative treatment doesn’t aim to cure the cancer, so lower doses of radiation can be safely used to minimise side effects.
Palliative radiation therapy is used to:
- Relieve bone pain
- Treat pressure on the spinal cord (spinal cord compression)
- Shrink a tumour to relieve pressure or a blockage
- Treat symptoms of cancer in the brain
- Treat symptoms of cancer in the lungs
- Control ulcerating tumours and reduce bleeding
- Treat a blood vessel blockage in the neck called superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO)
Is palliative radiation therapy always suitable?
Palliative radiation therapy isn’t suitable for all types of cancer.
Also, not all cancers respond well to radiation therapy, so other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or biological therapy may be more helpful.
Your radiation oncologist will recommend the most suitable treatment for you based on your individual condition.
How long does palliative radiation therapy last for?
Long courses of treatment generally aren’t required.
In many cases there will be as few as 1 or 2 treatments – or, there can be up to 10 treatments.
If those being treated are frail, or live far away from the radiation therapy treatment centre, treatment may be offered on the same day as the initial consultation.
Before treatment, a planning (or ‘simulation’) session will be held. This allows the radiation oncologist to design a treatment that is specific to the body shape, size and the location of the cancer.
During the planning session, X-rays or a CT scan will be taken. Small tattoo marks are often placed on the skin near the area to be treated. These tattoo marks help the staff ensure treatment accuracy.
When the palliative treatment involves the head or neck region, a special plastic mask or ‘shell’ is made at the time of planning. This helps keep the area very still and in the same position each day for treatment.