Radiation therapy is a form of medical treatment that utilizes high-energy radiation to treat cancer in different parts of the body. It can be used on its own or with other therapies like chemotherapy or surgery. External or internal delivery methods may be utilized for radiation therapy.
How Radiation Therapy is Used in Patients With Cancer
Radiation treatment for cancer functions by impairing the DNA of cancer cells, a process that can prevent the cells' proliferation and division. This therapy is applicable to various cancers, for example, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and other cancers in the human body. In addition, it can be used to treat benign tumors also. The type of radiation therapy used depends on several factors, including the cancer type, stage of cancer, the patient's overall health, and the desired treatment objectives.
Types of Radiation Therapy
Here are some common types of radiation therapy:
- External beam radiation therapy(EBRT): This is the most common type of radiation therapy, where high-energy X-rays or particles are delivered to cancer from outside the body using a machine called a linear accelerator.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): This type of EBRT delivers radiation beams that vary in intensity and direction to target cancer while minimizing exposure to nearby healthy tissue.
- Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy: It is a type of high-dose radiation therapy that delivers very precise beams of radiation to the tumour in a small number of treatments.
- Brachytherapy: It involves placing radioactive sources inside the body, close to or directly into cancer. The radiation source can be temporary.
- Proton therapy: It uses protons (positively charged particles) to treat cancer. Proton therapy can deliver radiation to the tumour while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.
- Carbon ion therapy: This is a type of radiation therapy that uses carbon ions to treat cancer. Carbon ion therapy can be particularly effective for tumours that are resistant to other forms of radiation.
Types of Cancer That Are Treated With Radiation Therapy
Here are some types of cancer that are often treated with radiation therapy:
- Breast cancer: Radiation therapy is commonly used after breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the breast tissue.
- Prostate cancer: Radiation therapy is often used to treat early-stage prostate cancer, either alone or in combination with other treatments. It can also be used to relieve symptoms of later stages of prostate cancer that have spread to body parts.
- Lung cancer: Radiation therapy can be used to treat both non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.
- Head and neck cancers: Radiation therapy is often used to treat cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, or salivary glands.
- Brain tumours: Radiation therapy can be used to treat primary brain tumours or metastatic brain tumours that have spread from body parts. It can also be used to relieve symptoms such as headaches and seizures.
How Radiation is Used With Other Cancer treatments
Radiation therapy is often used in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and immunotherapy. Combining different treatments can help improve outcomes and increase the chances of successful treatment.
Here are some ways radiation therapy is used with other cancer treatments:
- Radiation Therapy And Chemotherapy: Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are often used together to treat cancer. In some patients, chemotherapy may be given before radiation therapy to shrink the tumour and make it easier to target with radiation. In other cases, chemotherapy may be given after radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Or together, radiation therapy to increase the effect of radiation.
- Radiation Therapy And Surgery: Radiation therapy can be used before surgery to shrink the tumour. It can also be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy and Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses the body's immune system to fight against cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used to activate the immune system and make it more effective at targeting cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy And Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to target specific molecules or proteins in cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used to enhance the effects of targeted therapy by making the cancer cells more vulnerable to the drugs.
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Like any medical treatment, radiation therapy can have side effects. It depends on the dose and type of radiation, the area of the body being treated, and the overall health of the patient. Here are some common side effects:
- Fatigue: Radiation therapy can cause tiredness and fatigue, which can last for several weeks after treatment. Patients are advised to get plenty of rest and conserve their energy during this time.
- Skin changes: Radiation therapy can cause the skin in the treated area to become red, dry, and itchy. In some cases, the skin may blister or peel. Patients are advised to keep the area clean and dry, avoid sun exposure, and use moisturizers and other topical treatments as directed by their healthcare provider.
- Nausea And Vomiting: Radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis can cause nausea and vomiting. Patients may be given medications to help manage these side effects.
- Hair Loss: Radiation therapy to the head can cause hair loss in the treated area. This can be temporary or permanent, depending on the dose of radiation.
- Changes in Bowel or Bladder Function: Radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis can cause changes in bowel or bladder function, such as diarrhoea, constipation, or urinary urgency. Patients may be given medications to manage these side effects.
- Risk of Infection: Radiation therapy can make the immune system weak, increasing the risk of infection.
- Long-Term Effects: Some side effects of radiation therapy, such as fatigue and skin changes, may continue for several months after treatment. In some cases, radiation therapy can also cause long-term effects, such as an increased risk of developing other types of cancer.
How You Prepare For Radiation Therapy
Preparing for radiation therapy involves several steps, including a consultation with a radiation oncologist, imaging tests to help plan the treatment, and taking steps to manage any side effects. Here is a general overview of what to expect before, during, and after radiation therapy:
Before The Procedure:
- Consultation With a Radiation Oncologist: Patients will meet with a radiation oncologist to discuss the treatment plan, including the type and dose of radiation, the number of treatments, and the possible side effects. For some cases, an immobilization cast may be required to prevent patient moments during treatment.
- Imaging Tests: Imaging tests, such as CT scans or MRI scans, will be performed to help plan the treatment. These tests will help determine the exact location and size of the tumour and surrounding healthy tissue.
During the Procedure:
- Positioning: Patients will be positioned on a table, and the radiation machine will be adjusted to deliver the radiation to the exact location of the tumour.
- Delivery of Radiation: The radiation will be delivered from the machine outside the body, and patients will need to remain still during the procedure.
- Monitoring: Patients will be monitored during the procedure, and the radiation dose will be adjusted as needed to ensure the best possible outcome.
After the Procedure:
- Managing Side Effects: Patients may experience side effects, such as fatigue, skin changes, or nausea, after the procedure. They should talk to their healthcare provider about ways to manage these side effects.
- Follow-up Appointments: Patients will need to have follow-up appointments with their radiation oncologist to monitor their progress and ensure cancer has been effectively treated.
Preparing for radiation therapy can be a daunting process, but with proper planning and support, patients can feel more confident and comfortable during the procedure.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Why Do People With Cancer Receive Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy is a common cancer treatment that uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.
2. Is radiation therapy safe for patients and their families?
Radiation therapy is generally safe for patients and their families, but there may be some risks and side effects. Like all other treatment
3. Is Radiation Treatment Painful?
Radiation therapy itself is painless, but patients may experience side effects such as skin irritation or fatigue. Pain management options are available to help alleviate discomfort.
4. Is Radiation Worse than Chemo?
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are both powerful cancer treatments, but they work in different ways and can have different side effects. The choice of treatment depends on factors, including the type and stage of cancer.
5. At What Stage of Cancer Is Radiotherapy Used?
Radiation therapy can be used at any stage of cancer, but it is often used in association with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgery, to increase the chances of a successful outcome.
6. What is The Cost of Radiation therapy?
The cost of radiation therapy can depend on several factors, such as the type and length of treatment, location, and insurance coverage. Patients should talk to their healthcare provider or insurance provider to understand the cost and coverage options available.
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