Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment in which high-energy radiation is used to destroy cancer cells or shrink tumors. It can be delivered externally from a machine outside the body, or internally, from a radioactive source implanted directly in or near cancerous cells.
According to the Cancer Society*, approximately half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy for cancer at some point during their treatment. The type of radiotherapy as well as the success rate varies depending on a number of factors- the type and stage of the cancer being treated, the location of cancer in the body, and the age and overall health of the individual undergoing cancer treatment.
Types of Radiation Therapy for Cancer
- External Beam Radiation
This is the most common type of radiation treatment that involves delivering radiation externally from a machine outside the body. The machine aims high-energy beams of radiation at the tumor or the area where the cancerous cells are located. The primary goal of this radiation therapy is to damage or destroy cancerous cells while minimizing harm to healthy cells and tissues.
External beam radiation treatment for cancer can be delivered in a number of different ways, including:
- 3D conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) uses computer imaging to precisely target the tumor from multiple angles.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) uses advanced computer software to adjust the intensity of the radiation beams when they are delivered, allowing for a more precise and customizable dose.
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) delivers very high doses of radiation to a small area of the body, often over just a few sessions.
This radiation treatment procedure involves placing a radioactive source inside the body, near the tumor or cancerous cells. Small pellets or seeds containing radioactive material are implanted in the body temporarily or permanently.
Brachytherapy can be delivered in different ways, which are as follows:
- High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy involves temporarily placing a radioactive source inside the body, and delivering a high dose of radiation over a short period of time, typically just a few minutes.
- Low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy involves permanently placing a radioactive source inside the body and delivering a low dose of radiation over a longer period of time, typically a few days to a week.
- Systemic Radiation Therapy
In this type of radio therapy, doctors administer radioactive materials either orally or intravenously, which then travel throughout the body to target cancer cells. It is typically used to treat cancer that has spread to multiple areas of the body.
The type of radiation therapy used to treat cancer depends on a variety of factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the location of the tumor, and the patient’s overall health. Discuss the treatment options with a doctor to develop an effective, personalized treatment plan. Contact ACTC, one of the best cancer care centers in Florida to receive personalized cancer care.
Benefits of Radiation Therapy to Treat Cancer
Radiation therapy is a common treatment option for cancer and benefits of radiation therapy are the following:
- Effective cancer cell destruction
Radiation therapy damages the DNA of cancer cells, causing them to die or stop dividing. It is particularly effective for localized cancers that means cancer that is contained to a specific area of the body. In some cases, doctors recommend radiation therapy as the primary treatment for cancer. and in other cases, it may be used in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery.
Radiation therapy is a non-invasive treatment that does not require surgery or other invasive procedures. It is either delivered from a machine outside the body, or in some cases, from a radioactive source placed inside the body temporarily or permanently.
- Shorter course of treatment
Compared to other cancer treatment options such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy generally requires a shorter course of treatment. In some cases, it may only require a few sessions, making it a convenient treatment option for many patients.
Apart from these benefits, radiation therapy is also useful to relieve pain caused by cancer that has spread to the bones or other parts of the body. It is also known as palliative radiation therapy and works as an effective way to reduce pain and improve quality of life for cancer patients.
Risks of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for cancer, but it does carry some risks and side effects like other traditional cancer treatment procedures. Some of the most common risks and side effects of radiation therapy are as follows:
While radiation therapy is designed to target cancer cells, it can also damage healthy cells and tissues in the surrounding tissue. It can cause a range of side effects, including fatigue, skin changes, and hair loss. In some cases, this cancer treatment procedure can also cause long-term damage to healthy tissues and organs which can lead to additional health complications.
Some patients may experience long-term side effects of radiation therapy, which can occur months or even years after they have undergone the treatment. Long-term side effects may include tissue scarring, chronic pain, osteoporosis, etc.
- Risk of secondary cancers
While radiation therapy is highly effective at killing cancerous cells, it can also increase the risk of developing secondary cancers. It is because radiation therapy can damage the DNA of healthy cells, which can lead to mutations that eventually contribute to cancer. The risk of developing secondary cancer is generally low, but it is important to discuss this risk with a primary care physician.
It is crucial to remember that not all patients will experience these side effects, and some of these side effects are manageable with medication or other treatments.
Although radiation treatment is regarded as a highly effective and important cancer treatment option, it comes with its own set of side effects and risks. Thus, it is important for individuals to discuss their options and potential risks with their healthcare provider, as well as to have a clear understanding of the treatment process. With careful planning and attention to minimizing risks and side effects, radiation therapy can help improve the quality of life and survival rates for many patients.
*Data retrieved from the American Cancer Society on radiation therapy for cancer