Radiation therapy has been used as a part of cancer treatment since 19th century. It employs high-energy radiation waves to destroy cancer cells. Though the treatment has been around for ages it has seen much technological advancement over time. The current methods employed cause patients’ minimal discomfort and have reduced associated risks.
Over 40% of cancer survivors have got rid of the disease after radiation therapy while others have enjoyed an improved quality of life. A session extends anywhere between 15 minutes and 1 hour and is done as an out-patient procedure. About 60% of cancer patients receive radiation therapy either alone or in conjunction with other treatment options.
How does radiation therapy work?
A focused beam of energy is directed towards cancer cells in order to destroy them and inhibit their multiplication. It is often used for shrinking tumour in advanced forms of cancer. Care is taken to ensure that nearby healthy tissues aren’t affected in this process and treatment extends over several weeks depending on the results.
Radiation therapy in Australia:
Only 1 in 3 Australians receive radiation therapy as part of their cancer medication. www.targetingcancer.com.au has kick-started a campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of radiation therapy to ensure that more cancer patients benefit from this safe and affordable treatment option. Visit the page for more educative resources.
Administering radiation therapy:
High-beam rays are directed towards the cancerous cells to destroy them and hinder their ability to reproduce and spread to other parts of body. This in turn causes the cells to die and the tumour shrinks. The two ways of administering radiation therapy include:
- The rays from a machine called linac or linear accelerator is focused externally on the site of treatment
- A radioactive implant is placed inside the body near the cancer cells
- The patient would be administered a capsule of ‘radioisotopes’ to swallow
The radiation emitted doesn’t distinguish between normal cells and cancer cells. The radiation is carefully planned in such a way that other vital organs and uninvolved tissue isn’t affected in the process. The primary goal of the therapy is to promote cancer cure or palliative care. The advanced treatments available currently make life so much better for cancer patients.
Radiation therapy helps to treat cancer, to prevent its recurrence, before a surgery to shrink the tumour or post-surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells. Doctors recommend palliative care for those with advanced stage of cancer to ease their symptoms and delay the growth of tumour. Radiation therapy is also suggested as palliative care treatment option.
The following side effects may be experienced a week or two after the therapy and gradually disappears. When the treatment is directed near your reproductive organs, it may affect your fertility. The side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Sore throat
- Dry or itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
Radiation therapy doesn’t interfere with the patient’s daily routine which makes it all the easier for them. It effectively improves the quality of life of cancer patients.