Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. Two types of radiation can be used in the treatment of urethral cancer: external beam radiation and brachytherapy. In external beam radiation, the X-rays are delivered from a machine outside of the body. In brachytherapy, radioactive material is placed directly in or around the tumor.
Radiation alone is not commonly used as the first option to treat male urethral cancer, although it may be used before or after surgery. In women, radiation alone may be an option for some early stage cancers, but it is usually used with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy may also be used along with surgery for more advanced cancers.
Side effects of radiation can include nausea, diarrhea, skin irritation leading to redness and soreness, burning during urination, and fatigue. Usually these side effects go away after treatment, and many can be managed with certain drugs. Some side effects may be long-lasting, such as urethral or vaginal strictures (narrowing because of scar tissue).