Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is used primarily for treating various kinds of cancer. It is a popular form of treatment in Australia with more than 60,000 people receiving it in 2016-17. Nevertheless, there is a vital number of people who think this treatment is unsafe and has serious side-effects.
This article tries to dispel this notion that radiation therapy is bad for cancer patients. Read it to know some well-known and some discrete facts about radiation therapy.
What is radiation therapy?
In this therapy, a beam of high-energy is targeted toward the affected body part. This energy beam may comprise X-rays, gamma rays or photons. This beam is directed for a very, very short period, not more than a few seconds.
What is the purpose of radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy kills the cancer cells and stops the spread of the disease to other body parts. In normal circumstances, cells grow naturally, but sometimes, they can mutate abnormally. The continued and unchecked growth of these cells leads to metastasis or the spread of cancer to other body parts like liver, bones, stomach, lungs, etc.
When this mutation or change goes beyond control, doctors use radiotherapy to kill these cells.
Radiation therapy is also used to relieve the pain of the patient. In many cases, this treatment acts as a palliative, i.e. it improves the quality of life of the patient.
Is radiation therapy expensive?
If you go in for this therapy in a government-funded healthcare facility, you don’t have to worry much about healthcare costs. However, prices might go up in private hospitals that work independently. Talk to a few healthcare facilities like Targeting Cancer to get a fair idea of your radiation therapy costs.
What are the different types of radiotherapy?
External radiation therapy- Here, the source of radiation is external, as in a machine. This source radiates energy according to specified doses. Internal radiation- In some cases, when the cancer is located very deeply, doctors implant radioactive drugs inside the body. Over a period, these drugs decay within the body after emitting radiation.
What are the side-effects of radiation?
Side-effects may vary according to the location of the disease. In most cases, the patient will feel fatigued after receiving radiotherapy doses. When this happens, the patient should rest frequently and avoid heavy labour. If you want to indulge in light exercises, ask your doctor.
Radiation therapy also leads to hair loss. However, your hair might reappear after 2-3 months of radiotherapy. You may wish to cover your head with a scarf or a hat during this period. Hair loss might be permanent when the head area receives radiation for a very long period.
In skin cancer patients, the most visible symptom is the appearance of red and scaly patches on the skin. Another common side-effect is the dryness of the skin. Many patients report thick saliva in their mouths during radiation therapy. If this happens, consult a dentist to avoid cavities in your mouth. In the case of chest radiation, patients might get a ‘lumpy’ feeling during walking. This is due to the swelling of the esophagus.
Do I need to stay in a hospital?
Not necessarily. These days, your radiation doses last just a few seconds, so you don’t need to stay in a hospital. In severe cases, you might be admitted to a hospital by your oncologist.
Is this therapy safe?
Radiation therapy is a highly controlled process and requires the intervention of several experts like oncologists, medical technologists, and trained nurses. Highly advanced machines deliver radiation, and various ways cross-check the results.