When you or a loved one is\u00a0diagnosed with cancer, it’s normal\u00a0to have many thoughts running through your head \u2014\u00a0how bad is it, what does this mean for my future, and what is the treatment actually like?\nWhen referring to treatment, you may hear the words “chemotherapy” or “radiation.” Maybe, you’re told about a combination of both. So, what exactly is the difference between chemo and radiation?\nChemotherapy and Radiation Therapy? What Are the Differences?\nWhat Is Chemotherapy?\nChemotherapy, or chemo, is a process in which drugs are used to treat cancer.\nIt is a “systemic” treatment \u2014 working through the whole body to prevent the spread of the disease. The drug(s) used will vary depending on the type and stage of cancer as well as the\u00a0patient’s age and health. The goal of chemotherapy is to stop the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.\n\nChemotherapy is administered by a medical\u00a0oncology (cancer) health professional, typically a nurse or doctor. Chemo can be delivered as an outpatient procedure, in a hospital, a doctor’s office, or even at home in any of the following ways:\n\nInjection into muscle, vein, or artery\nOrally\nInjection into the body (such as the abdomen)\nDirect skin application\n\nChemotherapy side effects\nChemo side effects vary depending on the type and amount of chemotherapy drug used and how the body reacts to it. Because chemotherapy drugs travel through the body, they can also impact healthy cells, leading to a variety of side effects.\nChemo is designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells, but this can sometimes lead to side effects involving the body’s other, healthy fast-growing cells.\n\nBlood forming cells in the bone marrow (anemia, increased risk of infection, bruising)\nHair follicles (temporary hair loss)\nCells in the mouth, digestive and reproductive tract (nausea, loss appetite, constipation, diarrhea)\n\nSome chemo drugs can damage cells in the heart, kidneys, bladder, lungs, and nervous system. Your doctor monitors you closely and may prescribe medicines to protect your body’s normal cells. There are also medicines to help relieve side effects.\nLearn more about chemotherapy treatment at UPMC Hillman CancerCenter.\nWhat Is Radiation Therapy?\nRadiation therapy is the use of high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells.\nRadiation is delivered using special equipment that sends high doses of radiation to the cancer cells or tumor. Radiation can also affect healthy cells, however, normal cells can repair themselves, while cancer cells cannot.\n\nSometimes radiation is used to treat cancer, or it may be used to help you feel better, such as to minimize\u00a0bone pain, for example. Radiation therapy can take place on its own, but it’s frequently\u00a0combined with chemotherapy as a comprehensive cancer treatment program.\nRadiation therapy differs from chemotherapy \u2014\u00a0it is used to treat just the tumor, so it affects only the part of the body that has cancer.\nTypes of radiation therapy\nRadiation can be administered in two ways: internally or externally:\nExternal: External beam radiation is delivered from a machine. It is very similar to receiving a chest X-ray. Most people are treated five days a week for one to 10 weeks, depending on the type and location of cancer, their overall health, and other factors. The treatment only takes a few minutes, and is not generally given over the weekend.\nYou will be asked to lie flat on a treatment table, under the radiation machine. Other parts of your body may be protected with special shields or blocks to prevent the radiation from going to those areas.\nExternal treatments include:\n\n3D conformal radiation therapy after the tumor is mapped through imaging, beams of radiation treat the cancerous tumor.\nIntensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) gives the radiation oncologists the ability to more precisely “custom sculpt” the shape of the tumor. This helps deliver the right amount of radiation more accurately, as well as helps to preserve healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.\n\nInternal: Radiation that is placed inside of the body is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. A radioactive source, called an implant, is placed directly to the tumor or near the tumor. This delivers large doses of radiation to directly to the source of your cancer. These implants may look like a wire, pellet, or seeds.\nIf the implants are left in your body, you may be given special instructions such as to limit your time with and\/or avoid children or pregnant women. After a few weeks to a few months, the implants stop giving off radiation, and you can return to normal activities. The implant, however, will remain in your body forever.\nSome implants may be removed after a period of hours or days. Most often, they are administered in a hospital private room, and visitors will only be allowed to stay with you for short periods of time.\nThe most common types of cancers treated with internal radiation therapy are:\n\nBreast\nCervical, ovarian, pelvic\nHead and neck\nLung\nPerianal\nProstate\n\nLearn more about radiation oncology treatment at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.\nWhat Cancer Treatment Is Best for Me?\nYour treatment plan may be chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or any combination of these.\nIt is important that you understand your options, so patients are encouraged to ask questions. If you choose to research the types of cancer treatments available, make sure you’re using a reliable source. Your oncologist and health care team will work closely with you to determine your best treatment plan.\nFor more information on chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and the treatment options, visit UPMC Hillman Cancer Center website.