Common questions and misconceptions related to doctor’s use of Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy) to treat or kill cancerous cells. We know that cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells. Doctors use radiation therapy to kill these damaged cells to make sure the disease doesn’t reach out to other healthy cells or tissues.
Not every Cancer patient undergoes Radiation Therapy.
Cancer is categorized into 4 consecutive stages.
Radiation therapy is useful in all the stages depending on the primary site, stage, and intent of therapy. In some cases, sole radiotherapy can cure the disease and in some cases, it is combined with chemotherapy. Sometimes it’s done before the surgery to reduce the size of the tumor, or at times, it’s done after the surgery to wipe out any of the remaining cells.
Radiation therapy is mainly of 2 types:
- External – Beam Therapy or Teletherapy: In this, high-energy beams from a distant source are directed at the affected point of the patient’s body. X-rays, gamma rays (protons in some cases) are used for this purpose. External beam therapy is painless. Patients do not need to stay in the hospital during external beam therapy unless necessary. They do not see or feel the actual treatment and can go home after each session and can follow their routine activities.
- Internal Radiation Therapy or Brachytherapy: In this type, a temporary, permanent, or both kind of radiation sources are placed inside the patient’s body close to the tumor site. Doctors try to put these sources as close as possible to the tumor site and sometimes, they are directly put into the tumor. These insertions are painful so before inserting the device, some anesthesia is given to the patient just before the treatment so that he can’t feel the pain. This is also a painless therapy, but the patient can feel discomfort or dizziness due to the high dose of anesthesia long after regaining consciousness.
In some cases, doctors apply both the therapies together. The beam radiation is used to kill the cancerous cells, while internal brachytherapy destroys the concentration of the infected cells by giving a high dosage of radiation.
In beam radiation therapy, intensified beams are bombarded onto the site of the tumor to kill cancer cells. Although this bombardment is focused and controlled, some healthy tissues are also affected surrounding the damaged cells. This is not a point to worry because proper care and a healthy diet can help you with a speedy recovery. However, there might be some other risks involved with the therapy which are; hair loss (not always), nausea, vomiting, and fatigue depending upon the site of the treatment.
Both types of radiation therapy are given in continuous sessions. Each session will last for about 10 to 20 minutes depending upon the site and the severity of the case. These sessions are quick and painless and are repeated five times a week for several weeks; say 3 to 9 weeks. Sometimes; even a single treatment session can relieve you. Beam radiation therapy targets only the tumor but can also damage the surrounding cells so the 2-day pause in a week helps your body repair the damaged cells to let you regain the strength.
For many types of common cancers, such as head and neck cancer, lung cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, brain tumours radiation is found to be the effective treatment either alone or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy in curing and reducing the risk of recurrence of the disease. It also cures recurred cancer.
New technological improvements in radiation therapy have made it safer, quicker, more accurate, and cost-effective.