Radiation therapy treats many types of cancer and ease symptoms associated with it. In some cases used for thyroid disease and non-cancerous growths. A radiologist may help recommend radiation for cancer at different stages. In early stage, it helps reduce the size of a tumor before surgery and kill cancer cells afterwards. In later stages, it helps reduce pain in palliative cases.
Radiation treatment treats cancer by using high-energy waves delivered by a machine that produces a beam of radiation to destroy tumor cells without affecting too many healthy cells. This treatment results to side effects, experienced differently by everyone.
Sometimes a doctor prescribes radiation therapy alone and sometimes recommended in combination with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or both. When a person receives radiation therapy and chemotherapy at the same time, it is termed “chemoradiation” which can lead to severe adverse effects.
Healthy cells are affected as well as cancerous ones during radiation therapy. When this occurs, the individual may experience some side effects. Some side effects are specific depends on
- Area receiving treatment
- Person’s overall health
- Dose of radiation
Short term side effects vary, depending on the part of the body receiving radiation and may include
- Hair loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Skin changes
- In the long run, side effects may include
- Heart or lung problems, if chest is affected by radiation
- Thyroid problems
- Hormonal changes
There is a slight chance that high doses of radiation in certain areas can increase the risk of another form of cancer coming up.
There are two forms of radiation treatment. It can be an external beam radiation therapy
External beam radiation therapy. This is the most common type using an external machine emitting a beam of radiation directed to the treatment area. There are different forms available, depending on the need. High-energy beams can target cancer that is deeper within the body.
Internal radiation therapy. It has different types which involves introducing a radioactive substance into the body. The goal is to limit the extent to which healthy tissue around the cancer is exposed to radiation. This may be recommended for prostate or ovarian cancer.
Your doctor will discuss radiation therapy and other options that helps weigh the pros and cons of your treatment option. You may need to be supported by putting on a plaster case or use a headrest to ensure you stay still during treatment. The first session may be a simulation, in which the team runs through the procedure.
Most people have five sessions per week for 3-9 weeks, but this is depended on specific factors. Each session lasts 15 minutes thereabout. Radiation therapy is painless, but there may be damage to surrounding tissues
Internal radiation therapy requires an anesthetic before your doctor can implant the radioactive substance. The detail of each process depends on the type of radiation therapy and the type and location of the cancer.
You can go home and continue daily routine after receiving external treatment; however you may experience tiredness, sensitivity around the treatment site and emotional distress. To help manage these effects,
- Get adequate rest
- Eat healthfully
- Talk to friends/providers on side effects
- Follow instructions related to skin care
- Avoid spending time in the sun, due to risk of photo sensitivity.
Report to your doctor if you experience adverse effects for additional treatment as necessary.