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If you have been diagnosed with cancer, your cancer treatment plan may call for chemo and radiation at the same time. This is called concurrent treatment of cancer, concomitant treatment, or chemoradiation therapy.

Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC) offers both chemotherapy and radiation therapy to patients across Colorado in its more than 20 community-based centers. When your treatment plan calls for concurrent treatment, our board-certified medical oncologists and radiation oncologists work together seamlessly to ensure that your care is coordinated and to reduce any interactions.

senior cancer patient and doctorRadiation vs. Chemotherapy

Cancer is a powerful disease that often requires more than one type of treatment. Your doctor will likely recommend some combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Typically, when a combination of treatments is used, they’ll be administered one after the other. But new research shows chemotherapy may actually enhance the effects of radiation when administered at the same time. Receiving chemo and radiation at the same time may be recommended for you if your cancer:

  • Is located in areas of the body that are difficult to treat
  • Has a high likelihood of spreading
  • Is unresponsive to singular treatment

Cancers most likely to be treated using concurrent treatment include brain cancer, head and neck cancers, gastrointestinal cancers, bladder cancer, and lung and thoracic cancers. It can be difficult for adequate radiation to reach these locations on its own, so chemotherapy treatment is added.

Although chemo can help support radiation, we recommend concurrent treatment carefully. That’s because concurrent treatment, while tougher on cancer, also can be tougher on your body which results in more and intensified side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, pain, and hair loss. Getting chemo and radiation at the same time also requires more appointments in a short period of time as well as additional monitoring in the form of scans and blood draws.

Surgery + Radiation vs. Chemotherapy

Due to the drawbacks of concurrent treatment , it is more likely that your treatment plan will include various treatments sequentially, or one after the other, if you are having multiple treatments. Your treatment plan may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy — or a combination of any of these. If surgery is recommended, you may be given radiation or chemotherapy before or after.

  • When radiation or chemotherapy is administered before surgery to help shrink a cancer tumor or kill cancer cells outside the tumor, it is called neoadjuvant therapy.
  • When radiation or chemo is used following surgery, the goal is to kill off any cancer cells that may have been left behind to reduce the chances of recurrence. This is called adjuvant therapy.

When treatments are used in succession, your body has more time to heal between therapies, and side effects tend to be fewer and less severe.

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