Radiation therapy for cancer is the treatment of cancer with extremely high levels of radiation directed at cancerous cells. It is used mainly to kill malignant cancer cells, without hurting healthy cells nearby. The main aim of radiation therapy in cancer is to reduce the growth rate of a tumor or increase its ability to reproduce. As the tumor shrinks, it stops growing and becomes more susceptible to attacks. However, there are times when even the best treatments cannot completely eliminate cancer from the body. There are three types of radiation therapy for cancer, external beam radiation therapy (EBR), internal beam radiation therapy (IBR), and targeted therapy. External beam radiation therapy involves high-energy rays directed at the cancerous tumor from outside the body. Internal and targeted therapy, on the other hand, involves the use of medicines inside the body to kill cancerous cells, as well as surgery to remove tumor tissues. The third type is often combined with the other two.
External radiation therapy uses very high-energy rays, which are absorbed by normal tissue. This process of radiation therapy uses large doses of x-rays. The target is the cancerous cells although some healthy tissue may also be damaged. The small tumors are not affected as they are not in the direct path of the radiation beams. As a result, fewer doses are required to achieve the same results. In order to minimize the side effects of radiation therapy for cancer, doctors place the patient under constant monitoring. Patients are asked to avoid activities that produce excess radiation, such as x-rays, tanning beds, tanning booths, and hair straightening machines. Clothing that absorbs more radiation, such as aprons and caps, is also discouraged. Some drugs, such as estrogen preparations and tamoxifen, are partially blocked by some forms of radiation therapy. Cancer survivors are often asked to stop smoking since some radioactive substances trigger a reduction in lung function and increase the risk of certain cancers.
Similar to other cancer treatments, radiation therapy for cancer can have some potential dangers. Patients should be aware of possible symptoms of tumor growth, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, and swelling. There are some conditions, however, in which radiation therapy is indicated. If doctors determine that a malignant tumor is likely, they may recommend radiation therapy for these patients. Conditions that doctors consider to be better candidates for radiation treatment include sarcomas, small cell lung cancer, multiple myeloma, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Overall, the side effects of radiation are relatively few, although these do exist. Although the possibility of side effects is relatively low, it is important to understand that there could be some problems. It is always best to consult with your oncologist before undergoing any procedure. You can learn more about your cancer treatment options, including the pros and cons of radiation oncology here.
Common side effects of therapy as an attempt to kill cancer cells are pain, soreness, and temporary loss of taste, vomiting, skin rash, hair loss, and muscle weakness. Rare side effects are similar, though more serious. These include bone marrow depression, bone marrow paralysis, bone pain, deep vein thrombosis, kidney failure, and respiratory failure. Some of these may also occur in patients receiving low doses. Some researchers believe that these side effects are related to the extreme pressures caused by high doses of radiation.