What Radiation Therapy is all About?
Doctors often recommend radiation therapy as a treatment for cancer. Radiation therapy is also termed as radiotherapy. This therapy is very rarely used as a cancer treatment. Radiation for cancer treatment is usually combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery. Radiation therapy damages the DNA of cancer cells, thereby preventing the cancer cells from growing and dividing.
For radiation therapy, x-rays are delivered at a much higher dosage that is used for regular medical examinations. When delivered at high doses, x-rays kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. These x-rays can be delivered to a cancer patient either externally or internally. When the x-rays are delivered internally, radioactive substances are implanted into the body whereas, when delivered externally, a radiation beam is used. Radiation therapy that is delivered internally is also called brachytherapy or interstitial radiation. Nowadays, brachytherapy is more common and is being used much more frequently as compared to external radiation therapy.
The two most common kinds of radiation used in external radiation therapy are x-rays and gamma rays. There are strict state and federal regulations that administer the use and care of the radiation equipment and ensure safety of the patients. On the other hand, internal radiation therapy involves implanting radioactive substances like cesium, iridium, and iodine near or into cancer cells. These radioactive substances can be delivered by injection directly into a body cavity or the patient is asked to swallow a pill.
Some of the common effects of radiation therapy are hair loss, skin problems, fatigue and malaise, low blood counts, difficulty or pain swallowing, erythema, edema and anorexia.