Radiation therapy, known also as radiotherapy, is widely used in oncology as one of the types of cancer treatment. Radiotherapy, as the name suggests, uses radiation to treat cancer. It may be paired with chemotherapy to achieve better results in cancer treatment. Though the use of radiation for cancer treatment is wide-spread and well-researched, there are still many questions surrounding it. Therefore, we have prepared this easy guide, throughout which we will try to answer some fundamental questions like: “can radiation cure cancer?, “How does radiation therapy kill cancer cells?”, “what to expect after radiation treatment?” and others. We hope that this text will help solve at least some mysteries surrounding radiation therapy.
1. Does Radiation Cure Cancer?
Can radiotherapy cure cancer? It definitely can, but not in every case. For example, in the case of advanced stage 4 cancer treatment, radiation therapy may be aimed at limiting the size of the tumour rather than destroying it completely. Additionally, radiotherapy may be used to shrink the size of the tumour before its operational removal. However, in many cases, radiation cancer treatment (often paired with chemotherapy) aims at total eradication of cancer cells.
2. How Does Radiation Therapy Work?
Radiation treatment for cancer may be of two types: external and internal. Internal radiotherapy treatment is conducted by injecting radioactive elements into the patient’s blood. This way it reaches cancer cells. With external radiation therapy (full name: external beam radiation therapy), a special machine is exposing body part with tumors to external beam radiation. The effect in the case of both types of cancer treatment is similar since cancer cells are destroyed by radiation effects. Additionally, throughout many years new radiation treatments were developed. These advanced cancer treatments include stereotactic radiotherapy and proton therapy. Stereotactic radiation therapy is often used to treat brain tumors of small size, while proton therapy is a sophisticated method limiting the damage to living cells.
3. How Long Does Radiation Treatment Last?
It is not possible to estimate how long the radiation treatment going to last without knowing cancer patient’s situation. The stage of cancer, as well as the type of radiotherapy treatment, plays a decisive role. More than that – different kinds of cancer require different types of cancer treatment. Prostate cancer treatment will differ from breast cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, or lung cancer treatment. Additionally, radiotherapy treatment may be used before the operation to shrink the size of the tumor. Radiation therapy may be also performed during the operation itself (so-called intraoperative radiation therapy). The process of radiation therapy will be the longest in case if it is performed as a cancer treatment itself, sometimes with the help of chemotherapy.
4. What Are the Side Effects of Radiotherapy?
There are some side effects of radiation therapy. After radiotherapy, many cancer patients experience hair loss, sore skin, and throat as well as psychical exhaustion. However, these side effects of radiation don’t last for long. Other radiation effects do temporary damage to DNA, which in normal circumstances passes quickly and doesn’t bring any complications. Sometimes radiation treatment for cancer may cause permanent infertility or even breathing problems. However, such radiation side effects are quite rare. Still, radiation therapy cancer treatment is commonly used due to its effectiveness.
5. After Radiation Treatment – What To Expect?
There is nothing to worry – there are no radioactive side effects of radiotherapy treatment in neither short nor long term. Radiation therapy for cancer doesn’t usually cause permanent changes in cancer patient’s life. There is obviously a recovery period from radiotherapy as well as cancer. However, long-term life quality depends more on the recovery from a tumour like lung cancer or breast cancer and usually is not connected to radiotherapy treatment.