The Truth About Radiation Therapy

The Truth About Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment with several types of rays like x-ray, gamma ray, electron beams, or proton radiation. It is known as radiotherapy by general people.

By the intensity of radiation, neoplastic cells, tumor cells, or cancer cells are destroyed but there are several detriments associated with radiotherapy. But the truth is to survive cancer, doctors and patients accept this therapy with its short and long-term effects on the body. Cancer is an unwanted disease whose risk can be minimized by vaccination and appropriate lifestyles.

Mechanism of Radiation Therapy

Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA carries genetic instructions for cell reproduction, growth, development, and functioning. Like normal cells, cancer cells also own abnormal DNA. However, the abnormal DNA of cancer cells produces and grows cells uncontrollably with malfunction. According to the WHO definition, “Cancer is a large group of diseases that can start in almost any organ or tissue of the body when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably, go beyond their usual boundaries to invade adjoining parts of the body and/or spread to other organs”.

Cancer cells replicate and spread faster than normal cells. Sometimes at the early stage of cancer Radiation Oncologists might suggest radiotherapy by observing the nature of cancer cells and sometimes they can start radiation therapy after the cancer cells start spreading.

Radiation therapy usually works by destroying the DNA of cancer cells by mitotic catastrophe which is a procedure to stop proliferating cancer cell or cell death. Since radiation therapy cannot distinguish between cancer cells and healthy cells, so, this procedure of the radiation energy from ionized particles destroys cancer cells along with damaging living cells.

Radiation therapy procedures

It is very important to precisely target cancer cells by radiation therapy, otherwise, it can even cause the life of a cancer patient instead of recovery.

  1. Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT): A high dose of safe radiation is expected by this procedure to target specific tumor cells by different modules and angles.
  2. Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) and Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT): It is a non-surgical 3-D imaging procedure that uses x-ray of gamma knife to destroy neoplastic cells. When this surgery is performed with brain cells, it is called “Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)” and when this radiotherapy is used to destroy unwanted cells in the prostate, lung, liver, bone, or other body parts, then it is termed as ”Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT)”.
  3. Image-guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT): To target cancer cells more precisely, Image-guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) techniques might require computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound (US) or x-ray to scan tumors because Radiation oncologists may combine stereotactic radiosurgery, proton beam therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), or stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) with IGRT. With this sophisticated method, accurate radiation doses and destruction of specific cells are maintained by computer technologies.
  4. Radioembolization (Y90): This is a minimally invasive procedure that combines radiation therapy with embolization to treat cancer in the liver.  An isotope of “yttrium-90” is used for this procedure.

Unwanted health effects of Radiation therapy

Every radiation therapy has early side effects and late side effects. Early effects are included:

  • Headache, toothache, or body pain
  • Fatigue, tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss or trouble speaking
  • Sore throat or coughing
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Blistered or rash in the skin including skin texture
  • Hair loss
  • Seizure
  • Low blood count or destruction of blood cells
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Short breathing

The severity of the late effects of radiation therapy depends on several factors like the age of the patient, dose of therapy, and body parts that have undergone radiation.

  • Permanent hair loss
  • Loss of reproduction ability
  • Fibrosis
  • Skin changes or development of skin cancer
  • Lymphedema
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic sinusitis

Final thoughts

With the progress of medical science, radiation therapy is also developing but still, it has several adverse effects on the body. Despite the harsh truth of radiation therapy and its obnoxious impacts on the, sometimes it becomes the only way of hope for a cancer victim.

Pharmacologist I Researcher Research Coordinator Working site: Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, Rajshahi, Bangladesh Toxicology Society of Bangladesh