Radiation is a therapy commonly used in cancer treatment. Special equipment that directs high-energy particles or wave into areas of the body is used to kill cancer cells. Radiation is often used with other types of cancer treatment to ensure that all abnormal cells are destroyed. It is a highly effective method of treating cancer and has allowed many patients to go on to lead normal, healthy lives after their diagnosis.
How Radiation Therapy Works
Many different types of radiation are used for medical treatment. They all work by changing the way cancer cells grow and divide. Normal cells in the human body divide at an expected rate, replacing other cells as they die. Cancer cells grow abnormally, dividing much faster than they should. When radiation is directed at the body, it causes small breaks in the DNA inside the cells. These breaks change the growth of cancerous cells and cause many of the cells to die. Although nearby cells may be affected by radiation, they recover and operate normally after treatment.
Types of Radiation
Radiation can be applied externally, internally or systemically. Some types of radiation are in the form of high-intensity beams. Other types are injected into a vein or can be taken by mouth. All of these forms collect in cancerous cells in the body and help to destroy them, while preserving normal cells.
When Is Radiation Used?
Radiation treatment is used to:
- Shrink tumors, often before surgery
- In conjunction with other treatments to destroy as many abnormal cells as possible
- Reduce cancer symptoms in late stages of the disease
- To kill any abnormal cells that may remain after surgery
Radiation Side Effects
Radiation treatment can have side effects that can vary from one patient to another. Common side effects may include:
- Hair loss
- Skin changes, itching, peeling, dryness
- Mouth sores
- Dry mouth
- Trouble swallowing
- Problems urinating
- Sexual dysfunction
Where Are Radiation Treatments Performed?
Radiation therapy is generally done in several sessions over a period of weeks. Patients lie comfortably on a treatment table with shields that are positioned on areas of the body that are not going to be treated. The areas of the body that are to be treated may be marked to make it apparent where the energy beam should be directed. The treatment does not cause any pain. Your physician will closely monitor the progress of your treatments and prescribe medications for any side effects that may occur.
How Effective Is Radiation Treatment?
Radiation treatment is recognized as a highly effective, standard method of treating many types of cancer. However, how well it will work for any particular patient depends on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, and whether other treatments are also being used to kill cancer cells.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of radiation treatment and whether it is the best option for your needs.