Over the years, medical science has made some significant strides in the treatment of fatal diseases. Innovation has been the key element. This article discusses radiotherapy, one of the many methods of cancer treatments. Subsequently, we will delve into the benefits as well as the risks it poses. So let’s have a look.
WHAT IS RADIOTHERAPY?
Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is a type of treatment that uses waves or beams of intense energy, such as, heat or light to kill cancer cells, tumors, and other conditions. In simple words, you use radiation beams to destroy deadly cells. It is most commonly used to treat all kinds of cancers. And it comes under the subset of radiation oncology.
There are different types of radiotherapy. These include external beam radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy. External beam radiation therapy is where the radiation is directly aimed at the cancer cell area. Internal beam radiation therapy involves introducing radiation inside the patient’s body. For instance, brachytherapy is a form of internal radiotherapy where radioactive metal or implant is inserted into the body close to the cancer cells.
So let us look into how the radiation works.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Radiation therapy uses ionizing radiation and aims radiation beams at the tumor or the region of the cancer cells without damaging healthy cells. These beams are aimed at different angles so that there is a wider absorbed dose. Therefore this prevents it from affecting the healthy cells. Due to this process, the DNA of the cancer cells are broken up and cease to divide and grow. Hence, this prevents the further spread of the deadly disease.
ADVANTAGES OF RADIOTHERAPY
Controls Growth of Cancer
The biggest advantage of radiation therapy is that it prevents and controls the growth of most types of cancer. It is the go-to method to treat almost all kinds of cancers. It can also be used along with other treatments like chemotherapy to prevent diseases in its entirety. Another example is to use radiotherapy in order to shrink the tumor and then undergo surgery to remove the said tumor.
Radiation therapy is a method of treatment that comes under outpatient treatment. An outpatient is a person or patient who is not required to be hospitalized for his diagnosis or treatment. They only have to visit the hospital or any other medical facility for a certain period of time depending on their session time. As a result, patients do not need to go through the rigorous process of hospitalization and can enjoy their day to day life at home.
Palliative care is an approach that improves a patient’s as well as their families dealing with life-threatening diseases. This includes relieving some amount of pain and treatment of other physical, psychological problems. In terms of cancer treatment, palliative care could mean shrinking the tumor, controlling certain symptoms of the disease, etc. Radiotherapy is a form of palliative care for patients dealing with incurable cancers. In this process, smaller doses of radiation are administered to the patients. Patients at an advanced stage of cancer undergo palliative radiation therapy in order to maximize quality at the end of their life.
Treatment For Other Diseases As Well
Though radiation therapy is most commonly used in cancer treatment, there are a few other areas where this therapy is used. This includes thyroid disease, non-fatal growths, keloid scar growth, ossification, blood disease, etc. It is not extremely common because there is always the fear of radiation overexposure. But this is extremely rare and has the same risks as any other medical procedure.
DISADVANTAGES OF RADIOTHERAPY
A major drawback of radiotherapy is that is it has side effects and several risk factors. Depending on the kind of cancer and the type of radiation, the severity of the side effects varies. Short term side effects include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, sore throat, hair loss, skin irritation, and certain mental health issues like anxiety, depression. Long term side effects include thyroid issues, heart or lung problems, hormonal changes (especially in women), etc. It can even increase the risk of forming other radiation-induced cancers. This is also the reason why it is not that commonly used as a treatment for non-cancerous diseases. It is important to remember that the risk depends on factors like the patient’s medical history, type of treatment, radiation dosage, etc.
Adverse Effects on Pregnancy
Pregnant women are advised against opting for radiation therapy as it can have adverse effects on both the fetus as well as the women. Radiation in high dosages can cause abnormalities, impaired growth, and/or disabilities in the child. There is a higher risk of defects or malformations in these children because of radiation therapy. In addition to this, radiotherapy can also lead to infertility in women.
Cancer treatments are a continuous process of visiting hospitals, doctors, surgeries, follow-up checkups – the list is endless. It takes time and effort to fight the disease. And all of this does not come cheap. Hospital expenses are at an all-time high. Similarly, radiation therapy options depend on the kind of treatment the patient requires. The amount of radiation dosage and the frequency with which it has to be received depends on individual factors. Usually, patients have 4-5 sessions per week for several weeks. And each session rakes up a hefty medical bill. So unless you have good medical coverage or insurance, this is an expensive affair.
Just like any complex medical procedures, radiation therapy can be prone to accidents. The only problem is that these accidents can be extremely fatal and even, life-threatening. There are possibilities of radiation overexposure during the radiotherapy procedures which can even kill the patients.
To sum up, radiotherapy definitely is an important tool to curb the growth of cancer cells. Though there are genuine concerns regarding radiation, it does have significant uses in treating cancers and even completely curing them. Please do consult a specialized doctor or hospital to discuss your viable choices and treatments.