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Radiation Oncology vs. Chemotherapy: What's the Difference?

People learning about cancer treatments can receive a vast amount of new information in a short time. Radiation oncology and chemotherapy are two forms of cancer treatment you may hear about. Both are powerful tools for fighting cancer, but they work differently and are used for different types of cancer. 

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a type of medical oncology covering various chemical treatments. Chemotherapy includes many types of drugs that treat different types of cancer in many ways. This treatment often targets rapidly dividing cells by disrupting the replication process. Your doctor may use chemotherapy to stop cancer from growing or eliminate it completely. 

Chemotherapy Tucson

What is Radiation Oncology?

Radiation oncology is a way to treat cancer using radiation energy. Radiation oncology devices use computer guidance to send intense beams of radiation into tumors. This process damages the DNA of cancer cells, killing them. Newer forms of radiation are extremely precise and cause minimal damage to cells outside the tumor. 

Radiation Oncology vs. Chemotherapy: What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between radiation oncology and chemotherapy is how they work. Radiation works using energy that damages cancer cells, while chemotherapy eliminates cancer cells with chemical treatments. Both are effective ways to stop cancer cells from dividing. When these cells cannot divide, tumors stop growing and may shrink. 

The administration of these treatments is very different. You may take chemotherapy as a pill or visit your provider for IV treatments. For radiation treatments, your provider uses a computer-guided machine that emits tightly focused beams of energy. You will not feel this energy while it works. 

These treatments also address different types of cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy are two of the most common cancer treatments; some people will receive both. However, radiation therapy is more effective for solid tumors that can be targeted by radiation energy, while chemotherapy can travel through the blood to wherever cancer cells may be located. 

Today’s chemotherapy and radiation oncology have fewer side effects than older treatments. However, both can have side effects. The side effects of chemotherapy often affect areas like the hair and digestive system that have rapidly dividing cells. Radiation therapy is more likely to cause localized effects in the treatment area. 


Simply fill out the form on this page to request an appointment and one of our knowledgable team members will reach out to you. Or call our Sierra Vista oncology center to schedule directly at (520) 803-6644.

Do I Need Chemotherapy or Radiation Oncology?

Only your oncologist can determine whether chemotherapy or radiation oncology will work best for you. Many treatment plans will include a combination of radiation and chemotherapy for better results. By attacking cancer in two different ways, these forms of treatment can treat more cancer cells more quickly. Some forms of cancer are treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy alone. Your medical team will discuss your treatment plan and what you can expect. 



*Individual Results May Vary


At Cochise Oncology, we know optimal cancer treatment places the patient first – and our patients experience this every day. Read what our satisfied patients are saying about their experiences at Cochise Oncology.

Take the Next Step

Do you have questions about chemotherapy or radiation oncology? Reach out to Cochise Oncology at (520) 231-6231 or fill out the consultation form on this page.

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