Radiation Therapy for Stomach Cancer

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the part of the body that is treated. Radiation therapy is usually given with chemotherapy to treat stomach cancer.

The radiation comes from a large machine outside the body. You’ll go to a hospital or clinic for treatment. Treatments are usually 5 days a week for several weeks.

Side effects depend mainly on the dose and type of radiation. External radiation therapy to the chest and abdomen may cause a sore throat, pain similar to heartburn, or pain in the stomach or the intestine. You may have nausea and diarrhea. Your health care team can give you medicines to prevent or control these problems.

It’s common for the skin in the treated area to become red, dry, tender, and itchy. You’re likely to become very tired during radiation therapy, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise patients to try to stay active, unless it leads to pain or other problems.

Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be distressing, your doctor can usually treat or control them. Also, side effects usually go away after treatment ends.

You may find it helpful to read the NCI booklet Radiation Therapy and You.

You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having radiation therapy:

  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • When will the treatments begin? When will they end?
  • How will I feel during treatment?
  • How will we know if the radiation treatment is working?
  • Will I have any long-term side effects?
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