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Radiation Therapy for Stomach Cancer

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Radiation therapy is the use of penetrating beams of high-energy waves or streams of particles to treat disease. This therapy destroys the ability of cancer cells to grow and divide.

Radiation therapy may be used to treat stomach cancer. It is usually combined with other treatments, such as surgery and/or chemotherapy . Radiation therapy is often used after gastrectomy, in an attempt to kill small amounts of cancer cells that may have been missed during surgery. Radiation therapy may also be used with or without chemotherapy in very advanced stomach cancer that is considered inoperable.

Radiation therapy may help relieve some of the painful symptoms and bleeding associated with stomach cancer. Since radiation therapy may cause significant side effects, it is often used only for symptoms that are resistant to other forms of treatment.

Type of Radiation Therapy Used for Stomach Cancer

External radiation therapy is the type most often used to treat stomach cancer. In external radiation therapy, rays are directed at the tumor from outside the body. Treatments are usually given five days a week, for about five minutes per session, over the course of 5-6 weeks.

Researchers are studying the use of intraoperative electron beam radiation therapy for stomach cancer. Intraoperative radiation combines surgery and radiation therapy. While the abdomen is opened during surgery, after as much of the tumor as possible is removed, a large dose of radiation is focused directly on the stomach and nearby areas. This therapy is sometimes given in combination with external radiation therapy.

Effectiveness

Radiation therapy is not a sufficient form of treatment alone; this means that given as the only treatment, it does not improve survival. However, given after surgery, along with chemotherapy, it may indeed improve survival time. In a recently reported study, patients who had their cancers completely removed and received chemoradiation, had a 3-year survival of 50% compared to 41% in patients who did not receive the chemoradiation. In addition, relapse of cancer occurred in 43% of those receiving chemoradiation, compared to 64% of those who did not receive this treatment. Chemoradiation in patients who have inoperable stomach cancer may also improve some of the symptoms, but its impact on survival has not been proven.

Side Effects and Possible Complications

Side effects of radiation to treat stomach cancer include the following:

  • Skin may become dry, red, irritated, or appear sunburned
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
Dietary Changes

After radiation, you may need help constructing a nutritious diet that you can tolerate. You may need to consult with a registered dietitian (RD). Some suggestions may include the following:

  • Eating smaller meals
  • Eating more frequent meals
  • Avoiding a high intake of fat at any given time
  • Making sure that the calories you take in are as nutritious as possible
  • Utilizing dietary supplements if you are having difficulty maintaining good nutrition

If you have dumping syndrome, which results in the rapid passage of large amounts of food into the small intestine, you may need to make dietary changes, such as decreasing your intake of sugar-containing foods and increasing your protein intake. Symptoms of dumping syndrome include diarrhea, cramping, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and dizziness after eating. If you have these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.

Revision Information

  • Cecil Textbook of Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002: 738-741.

  • Conn’s Current Therapy 2002. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002: 527-529.

  • Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 1998: 733-749.

  • What is stomach cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/ . Accessed December 2002.

  • What you need to know about stomach cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/stomach . Accessed December 2002.