Most of us have heard about radiation therapy, but what is it?
Radiation therapy is a special kind of cancer treatment that uses energy to kill cancer cells. This kind of treatment uses X-rays, usually. Sometimes, doctors also use protons and other forms of energy in radiation therapy.
In radiation therapy, a highly focused beam of energy is sent to the cancer-affected part of our body. The source of this energy is a machine which is placed outside our organisation. There is another kind of radiation therapy where the source is placed inside our body. This therapy is called brachytherapy.
The main aim of radiation therapy is to kill the cancerous cells. These cells can grow, divide and multiply, so they must be wrecked. However, in many cases, some healthy cells are also destroyed in the process. These normal cells can later regenerate and grow. If you want to know about radiation therapy, more information here.
Use of Radiation Therapy
It is estimated that half of all the 100,000 cancer patients in Australia and New Zealand can benefit from radiation therapy. Oncologists use this treatment to cure more than 40% of all cancer patients. Radiation therapy is used to improve the quality of life of cancer patients. Generally, this line of treatment is used when cancer has spread to most parts of the body. Using radiation therapy, doctors try to lessen the pain and discomfort of their patents. Radiation is used to shrink tumours and treat the advanced stage of cancer.
A cancer patient needn’t get admitted to a hospital for radiation therapy. This treatment can be delivered even in the outpatient wing of the hospital. Usually, it takes just 20-30 minutes for one session of this therapy.
In brachytherapy, the patient might have to stay in a hospital for some time. During this stay, ‘seeds’ or sources of radiation are planted in his or her body. Once the planting process is over, he or she can go back home. However, the patient has to follow up on some necessary radiation-safety steps for further treatment.
Radiation therapy can benefit in the following ways:
- It may stop the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
- It improves the quality of life.
- In some cases, radiation therapy may also extend the life of the patients.
- Radiation therapy can stop the development of tumours in people having bone cancer.
- It can relieve pressure or blockage by reducing the tumour size.
- It controls the bleeding of tumours.
- It also reduces the symptoms of lung cancer, like chest pain and breathlessness.
- Radiation therapy can even cure symptoms of brain cancer like nausea, dizziness, and headaches.
Radiation therapy can work for the following types of cancers;
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Breast cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Brain cancer
- Cervix cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Carcinoma of the head and neck
- Skin cancer and melanoma
- Stomach cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Thyroid cancer
What are the side-effects of radiation therapy?
Side effects depend on three main factors:
- The patients’ overall health
- Area of the body receiving radiation therapy
- The type and dosage of treatment
Side effects can be short term and long term. Short term side effects are:
- Hair loss
- Vomiting and nausea
- Changes in skin color
There are some long term side effects. Those are:
- Problems of the lung and the heart. This side effect may come into play if the treatment affects the chest.
- Thyroid problems
- Change in hormonal levels.