Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. This is a standard treatment for anal cancer. People with anal cancer have radiation therapy along with chemotherapy, called chemoradiation.

External-Beam Radiation Therapy

External-beam radiation therapy uses a machine called a linear accelerator to send beams of radiation toward the cancer. Typically, external-beam radiation therapy is given five days a week (Monday through Friday) for about five weeks. The procedure is not painful, and each treatment lasts only about five to seven minutes.

If your treatment involves radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist will determine the dosage and schedule for your treatments, will help you manage any side effects, and will work closely with other members of your care team. Learn more in the section on radiation oncology.

Chemotherapy and Radiation Together

If you’re having radiation therapy, you will get chemotherapy at the same time. This combination is called chemoradiation. Chemotherapy drugs can make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can cause side effects, which may depend on exactly how and where the radiation is given. Fatigue is a common side effect. Radiation therapy to the pelvic area may also cause gastrointestinal problems (like upset stomach and diarrhea), sexual problems, and infertility. Your team at SCCA will talk with you about the specific side effects you might experience, and we will help you prevent, reduce, or manage these effects as best as possible. You can find general information in the symptom management section.

Women receiving radiation for anal cancer (or other cancers in the pelvic area) may develop vaginal stenosis, which can affect sexual activity. Our anal cancer team works with the doctors in our gynecologic cancer program to help women deal with these effects.


American Cancer Society
American Society of Clinical Oncology
National Cancer Institute