Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. This is a useful treatment when tumors are very large or are in areas difficult for a surgeon to reach or operate on, such as the eyelid, tip of the nose, or ear. Several different types of radiation therapy are used to treat melanoma.
If you have other health problems that make surgery risky for you, your doctor may recommend radiation therapy as an alternative. Sometimes your team will suggest radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells that may have been missed during surgery or to make it less likely that your cancer will return.
Sometimes your doctor will recommend that you have radiation therapy before surgery to shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove.
If your treatment involves radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist will determine the dosage and scheduling of your treatments, help you manage any side effects, and work closely with the other members of your multidisciplinary team.
External radiation therapy
External radiation therapy typically is given five days a week for a period of five or six weeks, using a machine that looks much like a regular X-ray machine. The procedure is not painful, and each treatment lasts only a few minutes.
Internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy, is a procedure that delivers radiation to a tumor using radioactive material—not X-rays. The radioactive substance is sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into a tumor.
Intensity modulated radioactive therapy (IMRT)
This radiation therapy procedure uses very precise imaging and computers to help the radiation oncologist plan your radiation therapy with great precision.
Chemotherapy and radiation used together
At times, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used in combination. The chemotherapy both fights the cancer directly and also makes the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy.