Recurrent Cancer and Radiation

Last Modified: September 25, 2005

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Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
I've read that radiation therapy is seldom given to the same area twice. In this case, any recurrent cancer would have to be treated with chemotherapy, which seldom does more than provide temporary help. Is recurrent cancer thus fatal in most or all cases?


Carolyn Vachani RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Medical Correspondent, responds:

It is true that we seldom radiate the same place twice. If cancer reoccurs in a previously treated region, we tend to use chemotherapy (or biologic or hormone therapy, depending on the type of cancer). Such therapy is often the better option because if the cancer has reappeared in the same place, we are concerned that there could be cancer cells floating somewhere else in the body that we cannot see. Radiation only targets a limited area, whereas chemotherapy, biologics and hormones can get through most of the body via the bloodstream. Contrary to popular belief, some cancers (even recurrent) can be cured with chemotherapy (look at Lance Armstrong!) As for the notion that all recurrent cancer is fatal, this is not always the case. The outcome is very much dependent on the type of cancer that the person has, as some types are more responsive to retreatment than others.

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