Cancer Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy is a method of treating cancer by using radiation.  This can be done a few different ways but the most common way is by using an external light beam that is directed at the tumor. This is similar to the way an x-ray works except the radiation given is in a much higher dose. The therapy control or kill malignant cells by damaging the cancerous cells.  

Preparation for The Radiation Therapy:  Every treatment course is different depending on the patient and the type of cancer they have. Your radiation oncologist will meet with you to discuss what will happen during the procedure. They will define the area that needs to be treated by marking it with a pen or a permanent dot of ink made by a little pin prick. Similar to how a tattoo works. This will allow the technician who is delivering the radiation to be able to radiate the exact area where the tumor is.

In some cases where the head is being radiated, there are special shells that are worn on the head and those are marked instead of having your scalp or head marked. When it comes time to receive the treatment, you will be taken into a room similar to a room where you receive x-rays. You will be asked to lie down on the table and the therapist or technician will position you under the machine. The parts of your body that are not being treated will be covered with a shield to protect them from the radiation. You will then be asked to hold very still. 

Procedure:  The radiation technician will exit the room and go into the room where he or she will operate the machine remotely. As you lie on the table or bed, beams of light will come through the machine above you and hit the area of your tumor. You will feel nothing at all.  The procedure can take anywhere from a couple minutes to twenty minutes, depending on how many areas you need treated and how quickly the machine works.  Some machines move at a higher speed than others. Your exact treatment time will be determined by your oncologist and technician. 

Types of Radiation Therapy:  As discussed above, the most common type of radiation therapy used is external radiation therapy where high-energy radiation is used to shrink or kill cancer tumors and cells. Another type of radiation therapy often used is called internal radiation therapy. This is where a radioactive device is placed in or near the tumor and radiation is travels a short distance to destroy the tumor.  A third type of radiation therapy is called Systematic radiation therapy. This is where radioactive iodine is injected and travels through the blood to kill the tumor or cancer cells. 

Recovery Time:  Recovery time depends on each individual. Most people are able to go to work afterwards or carry on with their daily activities.  They may feel some side effects which are listed in the next paragraph. 

Radiation Therapy Side Effects:  Radiation therapy may cause immediate and chronic side effects. The most common side effect is tiredness and lack of energy. You may feel similar to how you would feel if you laid outside in the sun all day. Your energy level is a bit lower.  You may also see a redness or rash appear at the site of your radiation. This is normal and your skin will return to it’s usual color once the course of treatment has ended. Some patients may also receive a sore throat if they have received treatment in the neck area.

Patients who have had their head area treated may experience some hair loss. Some nausea with or without vomiting may occur in patients who have had their stomach area treated by radiation. Talk to your doctor about how to treat the side effects.  The long term side effects due to radiation may include memory loss, infertility or a second cancer caused by radiation exposure.  All of this depends on the area being treated and how much treatment was received.  

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