Healthy Living

Radiation Therapy for Cancer

Radiation Therapy for Cancer

Key Takeaways

  • Radiation therapy uses high-power radiation to destroy cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy can be used together with chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer.
  • Side effects arise because of the damage that is done to the normal healthy cells.

When it comes to cancer, the common treatments are chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which work by the use of X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles. They are usually directed at the area where the cancer is growing. Radiation therapy is delivered through the use of machines and implants or by putting a radioactive substance into the bloodstream.

The Types of Radiation Treatments

Radiation therapy works by use of the following methods:

  1. External radiation - radiation is directed at the cancerous area by use of a machine.
  2. Brachytherapy - in this radiation treatment, a radioactive material is directly placed inside the body (implant) near the area where the cancer is growing.
  3. Systemic therapy - radioactive substances are introduced into the bloodstream where they travel to the affected area.

The Way It Works

Radiation can be given to a cancer patient to destroy cancer cells. When radiation reaches the cancer cells, it works by destroying their DNA. The DNA of the cancer cells is the one that contains the molecules that determine what the next cells will look like.

By destroying the first generation of the cancer cells, there will be no more recurrences to haunt the patient because they will all be dead. When these cancer cells are properly damaged, they will die and stop dividing.

That will have solved the problem despite the fact that radiation can also affect the healthy cells in the surrounding areas causing certain side effects, which are discussed below.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Side effects arise because of the damage that is done to the normal healthy cells. These healthy cells are inevitably affected during the radiotherapy process. When the doctors are about to get you started on the therapy, they will have to consider some things first.

They will have to take a look at the size of the growth and the overall health of the patient. Such factors will help them focus on the affected area, thereby reducing the risk of causing damage to the surrounding healthy cells.

The amount of radiation that normal healthy cells can take has limits. These limits are known and when they start the treatment, they will know just how much of the therapy you can receive without causing severe harm.

Here are some side effects that you can expect:

1. Fatigue

It is the feeling of being mentally and physically exhausted. You can’t properly think, walk, or talk when you have fatigue. You just want to lie down and continuously rest. The time frame for losing this feeling is not very exact, but you should know that when the treatment is done, you will also start to feel fine. Once you get back on track, a general feeling of exhaustion will lessen.

2. Skin Condition

You may experience having an itchy skin. Expect that your skin will become dry, blistered, and eventually peels off. These skin conditions are expected to go away after a few weeks when radiotherapy is finished. The doctors usually refer these skin changes as radiation dermatitis.

If these symptoms persist and become progressively worse, you are advised to call your doctor to get to know what is wrong and why it’s not going away. Usually, the skin reactions are due to the type of treatment being used.

3. Hair Loss

Hair loss is part of the treatment process, especially when the treatment is aimed at the head. The treatment will cause even the eyebrows and eyelashes to fall off. Hair loss happens only if the treatment is directed at the head. If it was done on the legs, there is no way you can lose hair on your head.

You will be told to wear a wig to make sure that there are no adverse effects from sun exposure and other external elements in general. Hair normally grows back, although your hair will not necessarily be the same texture or color as before.

4. Effects to the Surrounding Organs

After undergoing a radiation therapy, the surrounding areas where the treatment was applied have developed certain problems. For example, if you had the radiation directed around the cervical area, you are most likely to have urinary tract problems, infertility, and reproductive organ problems.

5. Recurrence of Cancer

This risk is small but very real. What happens is that the healthy cells that were damaged during the radiation therapy will flare up and become cancerous. The chances of this condition from happening are minimal, but not entirely impossible.

6. Difficulties in Feeding

When you have undergone a radiotherapy, you may develop sores and other problems in the digestive tract (mouth-stomach). These conditions are the ones that will cause most patients to have a loss of appetite. However, this problem can be solved with palliative care.

Dosage

The amount of therapy you get depends on the following:

  • location of cancer in the body
  • the type of cancer that you have
  • the surrounding tissues and cells
  • your age and medical history 
  • the size of the cancer
  • how far into the body the therapy needs to get to work properly
  • your overall health condition

The accurate measurement of the amount of radiation a patient can receive is very important since having the proper dosage can avoid most of the side effects.

Recovery

The recovery process is simple enough. You just need to know that all appointments must be kept and all the instructions about how you should care for yourself are followed. Recovery involves some changes in your life.

The recovery process includes the following facets:

  • the type of radiation used e.g., internal or external
  • regular checkups
  • lifestyle changes
  • dietary and health changes
  • getting back to work and live a normal life

Bottom Line

When you have undergone therapy by radiation, it won't be very easy in dealing with the side effects and the problems that come with it. However, radiation therapy is one of the two major methods that have been used to treat cancer.

Trust that the doctors will do a good job, and whatever happens, you shouldn’t get discouraged or become pessimistic. These treatments do work and they will do wonders for your health.