The Basics of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is performed by an oncologist who specializes in radiation treatment. Radiation is a common treatment for many different types of cancer, particularly breast cancer and cervical cancer. There are two main types of radiation therapy:
External Radiation Therapy
External radiation treatments are typically delivered in the form of X-rays. The patient will receive a series of X-ray treatments over a period of multiple weeks. There are numerous types of external radiation therapy such as 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy, tomotherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and image-guided radiation therapy. Each type of treatment has different benefits.
Internal Radiation Therapy
Also known as brachytherapy, internal radiation therapy involves the placement of radioactive materials inside the body. Brachytherapy treatments can be delivered through devices such as catheters, needles, or various other methods of delivery. Brachytherapy can be administered on a permanent or temporary basis. Permanent treatment will require surgery to seal the radioactive material inside the body. Temporary treatment usually requires a catheter and can be administered in a high or low dosage.
Benefits of Radiation Therapy
There are numerous benefits associated with radiation therapy. Unlike surgery, radiation therapy can quickly eliminate dividing cells, which reduces the likelihood of the disease recurring. Radiation therapy can successfully destroy the growth of a tumor without harming nearby tissue. Internal radiation therapy can focus high doses of radiation directly into the tumor resulting in fewer side effects.
Disadvantages of Radiation Therapy
While radiation therapy is an effective form of cancer treatment, there are a variety of disadvantages and side effects associated with the treatment. Hair loss is an inevitable side effect of radiation treatment. In addition to hair loss, radiation therapy may cause negative side effects such as skin irritation, difficulty swallowing, erectile dysfunction, appetite reduction, lowered immune system, and rectal bleeding. Radiation therapy is a long process and may take several weeks before a patient will see results. A full course of radiation treatment typically lasts about a month or more. Radiation therapy requires persistence and patience.