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Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. For non-melanoma skin cancer, radiation may be used:
The amount of radiation given during treatment, and when and how it is given, will be different for each person.
Non-melanoma skin cancer is usually treated with external beam radiation therapy. A machine directs radiation to the tumour and some of the surrounding tissue.
Radiation therapy is the preferred treatment for tumours of the ear, eyelid, lip and nose because it doesn’t remove normal tissue (which surgery does) and reconstructive surgery is not needed. Radiation therapy may be used for large tumours or tumours that cover a large area. It can also be used to treat cancer that has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy given in fractionated doses generally results in a better cosmetic appearance and fewer side effects.
Radiation therapy is often the primary treatment for older people (usually older than 50) who cannot tolerate surgery. It is not the first choice of treatment for younger people (under 40) because of the long-term risks of radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy is not used for people with certain genetic conditions, such as xeroderma pigmentosum, epidermodysplasia verruciformis or basal cell nevus syndrome. This is because these conditions put people at high risk for skin cancer and radiation therapy would further increase the risk of tumours developing in the treatment area. If possible, radiation therapy below the knee is also avoided, especially in the elderly, because poor circulation can decrease healing.
The Canadian Cancer Society’s peer support program is a telephone support service that matches cancer patients and their caregivers with specially trained volunteers.