Healthy Living

Radiation Therapy vs Chemotherapy

Radiation Therapy vs Chemotherapy

Key Takeaways

  • Chemotherapy can be used together with radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer.
  • The problem with both of these treatments is that they do not exclusively damage the cancerous cells. They can also damage healthy cells that are non-cancerous.
  • When you consider the two methods of treatment, you can see that they are complimentary. Anything that was not covered or was missed during the initial treatment will be captured by the secondary method of treatment.

Radiation Therapy

In this method, the doctors will use gamma rays, x-rays, and charged particles that will be directed at, implanted, or introduced directly into the blood stream. In this form of treatment, you will find the three types of therapy that will all be described according to way they work or the way they are administered. They include the following:

  • External Radiation Therapy – This is a therapy in which the treatment is directed on the outside of the body. This is done by a machine which will direct the place where the radiation will go.
  • Systemic Radiation Therapy – In this therapy, the doctor will insert a radioactive substance into the bloodstream to kill the cancer cells as they move about.
  • Brachytherapy – In this therapy, small implants, containing radiation, are inserted into the area of the body that requires treatment. They are placed directly where the cancerous cells are located. Here, they will either kill or shrink the cancerous cells.

How Radiation Therapy Works

Radiotherapy works by going after the DNA structure of the cancer cells. These are the molecules within the cells that determine what the next generation of the cells will look like. By damaging them, they cannot continue dividing, or even living for that matter.

Ergo, by destroying the cells that could have created more cancer cells, you have overcome the cancer. The damage is done by the particles themselves or by introducing charged particles in the cells that damage the DNA.

The Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

The problem with radiotherapy is that apart from damaging the cells that are responsible for cancer, they also affect the healthy cells that are not cancerous. However, radiotherapy has made improvements over the years, and doctors have worked hard to make this method of treatment as accurate as possible.

It is important to remember that the side effects of radiotherapy will depend on the location in which the patient is receiving treatment. The following are some of the side effects that can occur with radiotherapy:

  • Fatigue – Patients may feel exhausted and unable to perform activities that they use to perform.
  • Hair lossHair loss can occur with patients undergoing this treatment. However, the location of hair loss will depend on the location of treatment.
  • Loss of appetite – Patients may feel as though they are not hungry or have no need for food.
  • Damage to bodily functions – Depending on the location of treatment, a patient may experience issues with their bodily functions. For example, if treatment is administered to the pelvic region, a male patient may experience temporary erectile dysfunction. While a female patient may experience vaginal dryness and narrowing.

The Dosage for Radiation Therapy

Unlike medication which can be measured accurately, radiation can be grossly miscalculated. However, the following are some of ways that doctors can calculate the proper dose of radiation that a patient requires for their treatment:

  • The location of the cancer in the body.
  • The type of cancer that you have.
  • The general health of the patient.
  • The surrounding tissues and cells.
  • The age and medical history is taken into account.
  • The size of the cancer.
  • How far into the body the therapy needs to get in order to work properly.

These and other miniscule factors are all taken into account and used to calculate how much of the therapy you need and in what amounts.

Recap of Radiation Therapy

This method of treatment has been used to successfully treat cancer in most patients. Despite its shortcomings, it is one of the best methods for cancer treatment that we have in the world of medicine today.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is one of the most popular methods in use for the treatment of cancer. A doctor will define this as the treatment of cancer using one or more cytotoxic anti-neoplastic drugs. They use one or more anti-cancer drugs as part of a certain regimen which is geared towards beating cancer. These drugs are divided into two categories. These categories are:

  • Curative drugs – These are aimed at killing the cancer or curing it.
  • Palliative drugs – These are for the treatment of symptoms or side effects.

Chemotherapy works by the introduction of intracellular poisons. The main purpose of these poisons is to ensure that mitosis, which is the division of cells, does not occur. These medicines are now customized to aim for the cancerous cells.

How Chemotherapy Works

Chemotherapy is known to do the following when treating cancer:

  • Destruction of the remaining cancer cells after one has undergone treatment using surgery or radiotherapy.
  • In neo-adjuvant chemotherapy, the drugs are used to shrink the tumor before the patient is taken into surgery.
  • This treatment is usually used with others to make it work better or boost their chance of success.
  • When you get recurrent cancer cells which may have been missed the first time, chemotherapy is used to solve that problem.

Thus, chemotherapy is used as a blanket to put out any remaining problems that the other methods of surgery or radiotherapy did not cover.

The Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Just like radiotherapy, the medication does not just aim for the cancerous growth only. Chemotherapy also affects the healthy cells by slowing down their growth, and even killing them. This causes the side effects of hair loss, sores on the mouth or digestive tract, and nausea. One of the most common side effects that are found in all these methods is fatigue. This is why you will be required to have someone take care of you during treatment. For example, you will have to have someone take you to your chemotherapy session.

How Chemotherapy Is Administered

Chemotherapy can be administered in many ways. These include:

  • Injection – You are given a shot on the arm, thigh, or hip.
  • Oral – You will be given pills, capsules, or liquid medicines.
  • Intravenous – The drug goes into the vein directly.
  • Intrathecal – The drug is injected in the space between the brain and spinal cord.
  • Intra-arterial – The drug goes into the artery that leads to the cancerous area.
  • Intra-peritoneal – The drug is injected into the torso where the intestines, stomach, and other abdominal organs are found.
  • Topical cream – You rub this on your skin where it is absorbed into the body.

Bottom Line

When you consider the two methods of treatment, you can see that they are complimentary. They work together to ensure that the doctors have a higher chance of getting the entire tumor as it comes. Anything that was not covered or was missed during the initial treatment will be captured by the secondary method of treatment.