Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy is a common cancer treatment in which high doses of radiation is used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors by damaging their DNA. Low doses of the same radiation are used to see inside your body such as your teeth or broken bones through x-rays imaging. Radiation therapy treatment may be paired with chemotherapy to achieve better results in cancer treatment. Although the use of radiation for cancer treatment is wide-spread and well-researched, there are still many questions surrounding it. Therefore, we have prepared this easy guide, throughout which we will try to answer some fundamental questions like: “Can radiation cure cancer? “How does radiation therapy kill cancer cells?”, “What to expect after radiation treatment?” and others. We hope that this text will help solve at least some mysteries surrounding radiation therapy.
1. Does Radiation Cure Cancer?
Can radiotherapy cure cancer? It definitely can, but not in every case. Although it is a very effective cancer treatment, most types of radiation therapy do not reach all parts of the body; thus they cannot be fully helpful in treating cancer that has metastasis to many places within the body. Nevertheless, radiation therapy can be used to treat many types of cancer either standalone or in combination with other treatments. The main purposes of this treatment are to cure or shrink early-stage cancer, to stop cancer from recurring somewhere else and to treat symptoms caused by advanced cancer.
2. How Does Radiation Therapy Work?
Radiation Therapy uses high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to kill or damage cancer cells. There are three types of radiation therapy for cancer treatments: external, internal and systemic radiation. Internal radiotherapy also called brachytherapy treatment is conducted by injecting radioactive elements into the patient’s blood. This way it reaches cancer cells and tumors. With external radiation therapy (full name: external beam radiation therapy), a special machine is exposing body part with tumors to external beam radiation that directs high-energy rays from outside the body into the tumor. In systemic radiation, radioactive medications are given orally or put into a vein, in order to treat certain types of cancer by stimulating them traveling throughout the body. Since the common purpose is to destroy cancer cells by radiation, the effects of each type of radiation therapy are
Additionally, throughout many years new radiation treatments were developed. These advanced cancer treatments include stereotactic radiotherapy and proton therapy. Stereotactic radiation therapy is often used to treat brain tumors of small size, while proton therapy is a sophisticated method limiting the damage to living cells. Due to the importance of radiation therapy, those who want to pursue a career in medicine and research are more likely to be a part of this particular field.
3. How Long Does Radiation Treatment Last?
It is not possible to estimate how long the radiation treatment is going to last without knowing the cancer patient’s situation. The stage of cancer, as well as the type of radiotherapy treatment, plays a decisive role. More than that – different kinds of cancer require different types of cancer treatment. Prostate cancer treatment will differ from breast cancer, liver cancer, thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer, or lung cancer treatment. However, in general, each session is quick and painless and lasts about 15 minutes. Generally, patients have radiation therapy sessions 5 times per week which continues for 3 to 9 weeks.
4. What Are the Side Effects of Radiotherapy?
There are some side effects of radiation therapy. After radiotherapy, many cancer patients experience hair loss, sore skin, feeling sick, sore mouth, loss of appetite, as well as psychical exhaustion. However, these side effects of radiation don’t last for long; most of them will pass once treatment stops. Sometimes radiation treatment for cancer may cause permanent infertility, Lymphoedema or even breathing problems. However, such radiation side effects are quite rare.
5. After Radiation Treatment – What to Expect?
There is nothing to worry – there are no radioactive side effects of radiotherapy treatment neither in short nor long term. Radiation therapy for cancer doesn’t usually cause permanent changes in cancer patient’s life. There is obviously a recovery period from radiotherapy as well as cancer. Once your treatment ends, you will have follow-up appointments with your radiation oncologist. He or she will check on your recovery and track the side effects which may happen after the process ends. And, as your body heals, you will go more rarely to your follow-up visits.
This content is edited by Flymedi Medical Editors in April 2019.