Categories: Oncology

Chemotherapy & Radiotherapy: Get To Know The Facts

To be diagnosed with cancer is quite an ordeal. Often, it takes a while for patients to let the facts sink in. But the most important thing to do after a cancer diagnosis is to start treatment. The doctor prescribes treatment based on various parameters including the types of cancer or how far the disease has progressed.

When it comes to cancer, the conversation tends to be around 3 types of cancer treatment – Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Let’s probe further to understand them in detail and how these two methods of treatments are effectively employed to treat cancer, how they differ from one another, and what are the pros and cons.

Chemotherapy & Radiation Therapy

What is chemotherapy? Chemotherapy is a treatment in which patients are given drugs to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy, on the other hand, uses high doses of x-rays to kill the cancerous tumour in the affected part of the body.

The key difference:

They do differ from one another in a significant manner. While chemotherapy is a drug-based treatment and a patient’s entire body is exposed to the treatment, radiation therapy targets only the tumours at the affected part of the patient’s body.


In chemotherapy, the medicine – a combination of one or more drugs called cytotoxic anti-neoplastic drugs is administered either orally or intravenously. The key characteristic of a cancer cell is that it multiplies rapidly. Chemotherapy targets the cells and impedes the cell growth and in the process effectively curbs the growth of the cancerous cells.

While chemotherapy works well against cancer and is easy to administer it has its fair share of disadvantages which include:

Hair loss: Along with the cancerous cells, chemotherapy also destroys healthy cells resulting in hair loss.

Anaemia: Chemotherapy causes the reduction of red blood cells in some people causing anaemia.

Nausea and Fatigue: A few of the most common side effects of chemotherapy are nausea and fatigue.

Radiation therapy:

Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to quell the cancerous tumours in the body. In radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, high beams of radiation are passed through the skin to target the specific location where the cancerous tumour is grown.

The main advantage of radiation therapy is that it’s painless. Like chemotherapy, it’s not entirely devoid of side effects. The most common side effects of radiation therapy are:

Skin conditions: The skin on the site of the radiation tends to get dry or tight; sometimes sores or ulcers also develop there.

Fatigue and stiffness: As a result of damage to muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Swelling or lymphedema: Exposure to radiation causes damage to the tissues of the lymphatic system.

As treatments for cancer, both chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are effective. Both the treatments are either used solely or in combination to effectively thwart cancer. It’s up to the oncologist to decide the mode of treatment. If surgery can be used to remove the cancerous cells, doctors zero in on the surgery. If there’s no chemotherapy agent available and surgery is ruled out, then the only option left is radiation therapy. In short, the mode of treatment is decided by various factors.

Be it chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or a combination of all these, what matters is to defeat cancer. And the first step towards defeating cancer is early detection.

Dr. Saurabha Kumar, Consultant – Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra

Narayana Health

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