Radiation is a common treatment for cancer patients, and it involves the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. You can learn everything you need to know about radiation therapy with a search online, which can help you be prepared.
The treatment is highly effective and can be used in conjunction with other treatments like chemotherapy or surgery. However, it is important to understand what radiation therapy entails, how it works, and possible side effects.
How Radiation Therapy Works
Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA of cancer cells, which prevents them from multiplying and eventually leads to their death. Radiation is delivered to the affected area using a machine that directs the radiation to the cancer cells. The machine can be an external beam machine, which delivers radiation from outside the body, or an internal machine, which delivers radiation from inside the body.
There are three main types of radiation therapy: external beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy. External beam radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation therapy, and it involves delivering radiation to the cancer cells from outside the body using a machine. Internal radiation therapy, on the other hand, involves delivering radiation to the cancer cells from inside the body using a radioactive material that is placed near or inside the cancer cells.
Systemic radiation therapy, also known as radiopharmaceutical therapy, is a type of radiation therapy that involves the use of a radioactive substance that is given through an injection or a pill. This substance travels through the bloodstream and targets cancer cells throughout the body. Systemic radiation therapy is often used to treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body or when other treatments have not been effective.
Radiation therapy can have several side effects, including fatigue, skin changes, hair loss, nausea, and vomiting. These side effects usually go away after treatment, but they can be managed with medication or other supportive care. Some patients may also experience long-term side effects like infertility or damage to healthy tissues near the affected area.
Up to 95% of people who receive radiation therapy experience skin changes like redness, itching, or peeling. Fatigue is also a common side effect, with up to 9 out of 10 people experiencing some degree of fatigue during radiation therapy. Nausea and vomiting are also common, with between 50% and 80% of people experiencing these side effects.
Radiation therapy is highly effective in treating cancer and can be used to shrink tumors before surgery or kill remaining cancer cells after surgery. Radiation therapy can also be used to relieve symptoms caused by cancer, like pain or bleeding. It is a non-invasive treatment that does not generally require hospitalization and has a short recovery time compared to other treatments.
Preparing for Radiation Therapy
Before radiation therapy, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and may run tests like imaging or blood work. You may also need to have a simulation session, where the radiation therapist will create a plan for delivering the radiation to the affected area. During this session, you will lie in the same position you will be in during treatment, and the radiation therapist will take measurements and make marks on your skin.
What to Expect During Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is usually given daily over a period of several weeks. Each treatment session is quick, lasting only a few minutes. You will be positioned on a table, and the radiation therapist will use the machine to deliver the radiation to the affected area. You may need to hold your breath or avoid moving during the session to ensure the radiation is delivered accurately.