Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cancer Treatment: Radiation Therapy

Read on to know more about the types of radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer and their effects on the body

Cancer cells grow rapidly and cause tumors in the body. Radiation therapy aims at destroying these cancer cells which prevents their growth and spread in the body.

For this purpose, different types of radiation sources such as X-Rays, Gamma Rays, and Particle Beams of electrons, protons or neutrons are used to destroy the cancer cells within the body. This cancer radiation therapy is used to treat patients with almost any type of cancer. Often cancer radiation therapy is also accompanied by other medical treatments that are given to the cancer patients.

The types of radiation therapy are:

External Radiation – In this method, the cancer patient is given radiation from a machine that is present outside the body. This process does not require the hospitalization of the patient.

Internal Radiation or Brachytherapy – In this method, small radioactive capsules or tubes are placed inside the patient’s body. These deliver the radiotherapy to those parts of the body that are affected by the cancer cells. This process requires hospitalization of the patient.

Systemic Radiation – In this method, the radioactive substance is injected into the vein of the cancer patient. The substance then travels through the body of the patient delivering the radiotherapy. This process requires hospitalization of the patient.

Intra-Operative Radiation – In this method radiotherapy is given to the cancer patients during a surgical procedure. Here, an external beam of radiation is aimed at the area where cancer cells need to be destroyed. This process requires hospitalization of the patient.

Radiation Therapy

External Radiation Therapy sessions are normally treated on an outpatient basis. This means that the patient can go home after the session and need not stay in the hospital during treatment. This treatment is usually spread over a few weeks.

Before beginning the procedure, a simulation session is held where scans are taken to determine the location of the cancer and the ideal method of delivering the radiation beams to the right part of the body.

In the actual radiation therapy session, the patient is asked to lie down in a pre-determined position. This is determined during the simulation session. Then shields and molds are placed around the body to cover the healthy parts of the body. The radiation machine has a linear accelerator arm which then buzzes around the body delivering rays of radiotherapy to the affected body parts. The patient needs to lie still and breathe normally during this time. This takes only a few minutes.

Effects of Radiation: Radiation Side Effects

Radiation, whether for the purposes of healing or curing, does carry its risks and side effects.

One of the major side effects of radiation therapy is fatigue. Patients end up feeling extremely tired and worn out after the treatment procedure.

Hair loss is also a common effect of radiation therapy. Hair is lost over the areas of the skin where radiation therapy is applied. This may also be followed by skin irritation.

The effects of radiation therapy to the head and neck area are known to cause dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, ear aches, nausea, thickened saliva, sore jaw and change in the taste of food.

When radiation is applied to the pelvic area, it is often accompanied by diarrhea, frequent urination, sexual dysfunction, and bladder irritation.

Radiation side effects to the chest area cause cough, short breath and difficulty in swallowing.

And radiation side effects to the abdomen area cause nausea, upset stomach and diarrhea.

It is always best to ask your doctor about the possible side effects that can develop as a result of radiation therapy. These side effects can be short term or even long term. It is always best to know beforehand about the possibilities one may have to encounter before embarking on the process of taking radiation therapy for cancer treatment.


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