Radiation therapy helps in treating cancer by applying high energy beams to destroy malignant cells. Doctors also use radiation therapy for treating some noncancerous (benign) tumors. In most cases, radiologists use X-rays, protons, and other forms of energy for targeting cancer cells.
What is Radiation Therapy and How Does It Work?
Whenever doctors refer to “radiation therapy,” it usually refers to the external beam radiation technique for eliminating abnormal cells. This high-intensity beam gets projected through a state-of-the-art machine placed outside your body. It targets a specific point on your body so that other areas do not get affected by the impact of radiation.
In some cases, radiologists also use brachytherapy, where the radiation-emitting implant remains installed inside your body.
The function of radiotherapy is to damage the genetic machinery of cells. It prevents further growth and division and ultimately shrinks the cancerous tumor. However, many adjacent cells may also get affected by radiation. This is why Oncologists try to implement radiation therapy as precisely as possible. They aim to damage the minimum number of healthy cells.
What are the Different Types of Radiation Therapy?
Your doctor will determine the type of radiation therapy for you depending on several conditions. They include:
• The type of cancer
• Location of the tumor
• Size of the tumor
• The proximity of the malignant growth with other vital organs
• Your general health
• Simultaneous treatment (if any)
Based on the above conditions, there are two types of radiation therapy:
External beam radiation therapy
In this case, a machine emits radiation beams from outside your body. It aims at the malignant tumor from various angles. The radiation therapy machine uses computer programs for studying detailed images and reducing the size of the tumor. It helps in focusing radiation to a specific point on your body to maximize the efficiency and minimize unintended damage to healthy cells.
External beam radiation therapy takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour for a single session. Oncologists dedicate the maximum of this time to determining the perfect position for emitting the radiations. Since a miscalculation can lead to extensive damage to surrounding organs, your doctor will take maximum precautions before commencing the treatment.
Mostly you just have to visit the hospital a few times a week for radiation therapy. However, this schedule can differ depending on the size, location, and type of the tumor.
External beam radiation therapy is a safe procedure, so there is no risk of becoming radioactive during the treatment. You can confidently mix with your friends and family members without any chance of transmitting the radiation.
Internal radiation therapy
In internal radiation therapy, your doctor will introduce a radiation-emitting compound, either in the solid or liquid form inside your body. Doctors administer this treatment either through a liquid radioactive iodine IV injection or as an ingestible radioactive capsule. Internal radiation therapy is also known as a systemic treatment, as the X-ray emitting compound is present within your system. It is a preferred mode of treatment for curing thyroid cancer.
Another radiotherapy option is called brachytherapy, which is available for treating neck, breast, head, eye, cervix, endometrial, and prostate cancer. In this treatment option, your radiologist introduces a tiny radioactive capsule either through a catheter or an applicator.
Also Read About: Head and Neck Cancers
In some rare cases, your oncologist may also permanently implant a radioactive device inside your body. Though the doses of radiation weaken over time, your body fluids and organs will continue to emit radiation for a few days. So, doctors will advise you to remain admitted to the hospital during the initial stages of the treatment.
|Apollo Proton Cancer Centre – South Asia’s First Proton Therapy, A Beacon of Hope for Cancer Patients Apollo Proton Cancer Centre, equipped with the path-breaking pencil beam technology, offers hope to cancer patients from India and abroad. Proton therapy, one of the most advanced forms of radiation treatment, attacks tumours with more precision, minimizing damage to the healthy surrounding tissues. Proton is a charged particle. It gives away all the charge at one spot. This phenomenon, also known as Braggs Peak, is better than the conventional X-ray therapy, which delivers most of their doses before meeting the tumor. So, there is considerable damage in the adjacent healthy tissues in traditional radiation therapy. For more information, log on to www.proton.apollohospitals.com
When Do Doctors Advise Radiation Therapy?
Most patients suffering from any type of cancer receive radiation therapy to eliminate malignant cells. It also proves beneficial for curing certain benign tumors. Oncologists advise this treatment for cancer at different stages and different outcomes. They include:
• As the primary treatment for cancer
• Before a tumor operation to reduce its size (this is known as neoadjuvant therapy)
• Post-operative radiation therapy to prevent further growth of the malignant cells
• As a combination treatment with chemotherapy to eliminate the cancerous cells
• During the advanced stages of cancerous growth to reduce the existing symptoms
When should you see a doctor for Radiation Therapy?
If you experience any early warning signs for cancer like unintentional weight loss, extreme fatigue, or blood in cough, urine, or stool, immediately visit a doctor for a correct diagnosis. If the diagnostic tests suggest cancer, then your oncologist will guide you to an early treatment plan. If the cancer is known to be sensitive to radiation therapy, they prescribe it for disrupting the genetic machinery of malignant cells and eliminating the cancer.
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How Does Radiation Therapy Affect the Human Body?
You may experience a range of side effects after undergoing radiation therapy. These adverse effects depend on the organs involved with the treatment and duration of X-ray exposure. However, there is nothing to panic , as these side-effects are temporary. Most of them disappear within a few months of completion of radiation therapy.
Here is a list of possible side-effects you may experience based on the organ receiving radiation therapy:
• Any organ of the body
Patients complain of hair loss, skin irritation, and tanning on the treatment location. Sometimes, hair loss may be permanent. Some candidates also experience extreme fatigue during the treatment.
• Head and neck
If you receive radiation therapy on the head and neck, there are chances of developing dry mouth, thickened saliva, mouth sores, nausea, and tooth decay. Some candidates even complain of difficulty in swallowing and change in food tastes during the treatment.
Chest radiation therapy candidates complain of cough, shortness of breath, and challenges in swallowing.
There are chances of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea due to radiation therapy in the abdomen.
Radiation therapy in the pelvic region can result in diarrhea, frequent urination, sexual dysfunction, and bladder irritation.
How Would You Prepare for Radiation Therapy?
The medical team conducts a thorough discussion with you regarding the procedure and the outcome of radiation therapy. The preparation process includes:
• Radiation simulation
In the simulation for radiation therapy, the medical team guides you in selecting a preferred position on the table. You may ask for cushions so that it is convenient to stay still during the entire treatment process. Your radiologist also marks the exact position on your body that will be receiving the X-rays.
• Planning scans
In most cases, oncologists advise a computerized tomography (CT) scan to determine the precise position and suitable doses of radiation for you.
What can you expect during Radiation Therapy?
On the day of the radiation therapy, you will lie down on a table in front of the machine that delivers high-energy radiation beams. It focuses from multiple angles to deliver the precise radiation dose. Do not move any body parts as long as the therapy goes on. The machine makes a buzzing noise while in action.
The medical team is present in an adjacent room during the treatment with audio and video connections. If you feel uncomfortable during the therapy, inform your doctor about it. Usually, you do not feel any pain during radiation therapy.
Finally, it would be right to say that radiation therapy is one of the most advanced and widely prevalent cancer treatments. After you undergo the therapy, do not forget to meet your Oncologist for a periodic follow-up consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Do you need hospital admission for radiation therapy?
No, the external beam radiation therapy can go on as an outpatient arrangement. Oncologists usually prescribe it for five days a week over a specific duration. They spread out the treatment over several weeks to assist in your recovery process. It helps in the growth of healthy cells in between and minimizes side effects.
2. Can you breathe normally during radiation therapy?
Usually, you can breathe normally during radiation therapy sessions. However, breast and lung cancer patients may have to hold their breath on and off to retain the treatment’s efficiency.
3. Why should you not move during an external beam radiation therapy?
You should not move any body parts while the external beam radiation is going on. It may lead to radiation exposure to healthy body organs and undesirable hazards to those parts.
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