What is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy most often uses X-rays, but protons or other types of energy also can be used.
The most common type of radiation therapy is external beam radiation. This type involves a machine that directs high-energy beams of radiation at cancer cells. The machine allows radiation to be targeted at specific sites, which is why doctors use external beam radiation for nearly all types of cancer.
Radiation therapy damages cells by destroying the genetic material that controls how cells grow and divide. While both healthy and cancerous cells are damaged by radiation therapy, the goal of radiation therapy is to destroy as few normal, healthy cells as possible. Normal cells can often repair much of the damage caused by radiation.
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About Iranian Surgery
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Before Radiation Therapy
Why it's done
Radiation therapy is an important tool for treating cancer and is often used in conjunction with other therapies, such as chemotherapy or tumor removal surgery.
The main goals of radiation therapy are to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. While the therapy also will likely injure healthy cells, the damage isn’t permanent. Your normal, noncancerous cells have the ability to recover from radiation therapy. To minimize the effect radiation has on the body, the radiation is targeted only to specific points in your body.
Radiation therapy can be used during different stages of cancer treatment and for different outcomes. Radiation therapy can be used:
. To alleviate symptoms in advanced, late-stage cancer
. As the primary treatment for cancer
. In conjunction with other cancer treatments
. To shrink a tumor before surgery
. To kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery
How you prepare
Before you undergo external beam radiation therapy, your health care team guides you through a planning process to ensure that radiation reaches the precise spot in your body where it's needed. Planning typically includes:
. Radiation simulation. During simulation, your radiation therapy team works with you to find a comfortable position for you during treatment. It's imperative that you lie still during treatment, so finding a comfortable position is vital. To do this, you'll lie on the same type of table that's used during radiation therapy. Cushions and restraints are used to position you in the right way and to help you hold still. Your radiation therapy team will mark the area of your body that will receive the radiation. Depending on your situation, you may receive temporary marking with a marker or you may receive small permanent tattoos.
. Planning scans. Your radiation therapy team will have you undergo computerized tomography (CT) scans to determine the area of your body to be treated.
After the planning process, your radiation therapy team decides what type of radiation and what dose you'll receive based on your type and stage of cancer, your general health, and the goals for your treatment.
The precise dose and focus of radiation beams used in your treatment is carefully planned to maximize the radiation to your cancer cells and minimize the harm to surrounding healthy tissue.
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Who gets radiation therapy?
More than half of people with cancer get radiation therapy. Sometimes, radiation therapy is the only cancer treatment needed and sometimes it's used with other types of treatment. The decision to use radiation therapy depends on the type and stage of cancer, and other health problems a patient might have.
Risks and Side effects of radiation therapy
No matter what type of radiation is used, fatigue and hair loss are common side effects. Hair loss only happens on the part of your body being treated.
Radiation also affects skin cells. Skin changes can include:
Other side effects of radiation depend on the area being treated, and can include:
. Mouth sores
. Dry mouth
. Sexual dysfunction
. Sore throat
. Trouble swallowing
. Urination difficulties, such as painful urination or urinary urgency
The majority of these side effects go away within two months after treatment is complete. In rare cases, side effects can linger or even appear six or more months after treatment has finished. Late side effects can include:
. Mouth problems
. Joint problems
. Lymphedema, or tissue swelling
. Possible secondary cancer
These can sometimes appear years after therapy. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding side effects.
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During Radiation Therapy
How radiation therapy is performed
Radiation therapy typically takes treatment sessions five days a week for 1 to 10 weeks. The total number of treatments depends on the size and type of cancer. Each session usually takes about 10 to 30 minutes. Often, the individual is given each weekend off from therapy, which helps with the restoration of normal cells.
At each session, you’ll lie on the treatment table, and your team will position you and apply the same types of cushions and restraints used during your initial radiation simulation. Protective covering or shields may also be positioned on or around you to protect other body parts from unnecessary radiation.
Radiation therapy involves the use of a linear accelerator machine, which directs radiation at the appropriate spot. The machine may move around the table in order to direct the radiation at the appropriate angles. The machine may also make a buzzing sound, which is perfectly normal.
You should feel no pain during this test. You’ll also be able to communicate with your team via the room’s intercom, if necessary. Your doctors will be nearby in an adjacent room, monitoring the test.
How is radiation therapy given?
Radiation therapy can be given in 3 ways:
. External radiation (or external beam radiation): uses a machine that directs high-energy rays from outside the body into the tumor. It’s done during outpatient visits to a hospital or treatment center. It's usually given over many weeks and sometimes will be given twice a day for several weeks. A person receiving external radiation is not radioactive and does not have to follow special safety precautions at home.
. Internal radiation: Internal radiation is also called brachytherapy. A radioactive source is put inside the body into or near the tumor. With some types of brachytherapy, radiation might be placed and left in the body to work. Sometimes it is placed in the body for a period of time and then removed. This is decided based on the type of cancer. Special safety precautions are needed for this type of radiation for a period of time. But it's important to know if the internal radiation is left in the body, after a while it eventually is no longer radioactive.
. Systemic radiation: Radioactive drugs given by mouth or put into a vein are used to treat certain types of cancer. These drugs then travel throughout the body. You might have to follow special precautions at home for a period of time after these drugs are given.
The type of radiation you might get depends on the kind of cancer you have and where it is. In some cases, more than one type is used. Your cancer care team can answer specific questions about the type of radiation prescribed for you, how it affects your body, and any precautions that may be needed.
After Radiation Therapy
Following up after radiation therapy
During the weeks of treatment, your healthcare provider will closely monitor your treatment schedule and dosing, and your general health.
You’ll undergo several imaging scans and tests during radiation so your doctors can observe how well you’re responding to treatment. These scans and tests can also tell them if any changes need to be made to your treatment.
If you experience side effects from radiation — even if they’re expected — tell your healthcare provider at your next appointment. Sometimes, even small changes can make a big difference in lessening side effects. At the very least, you may be given advice or a medication to help ease the discomfort.
Does radiation therapy cause cancer?
It has long been known that radiation therapy can slightly raise the risk of getting another cancer. It’s one of the possible side effects of treatment that doctors have to think about when they weigh the benefits and risks of each treatment. For the most part, the risk of a second cancer from these treatments is small and is outweighed by the benefit of treating the cancer, but the risk is not zero. This is one of the many reasons each case is different and each person must be part of deciding which kind of treatment is right for them. The risk is different depending on where the radiation treatment will be in the body.
If your cancer care team recommends radiation treatment, it’s because they believe that the benefits you’ll get from it will outweigh the possible side effects. Still, this is your decision to make. Knowing as much as you can about the possible benefits and risks can help you be sure that radiation therapy is best for you.
Does radiation therapy affect pregnancy or fertility?
. Females: It’s important not to become pregnant while getting radiation – it can harm the growing baby. If there’s a chance you might become pregnant, be sure to talk to your doctor about birth control options.
If you are or might be pregnant, let your doctor know right away.
If the area getting radiation in your body includes the ovaries, it is possible that the dose of radiation can cause the ovaries to no longer work (sterility), and that you would be unable to have children. it is important to know the risk of this possibility in advance of receiving radiation therapy. If you are thinking about radiation therapy that will affect the ovaries, talk to your doctor about how this might affect having children in the future.
. Males: Not much is known about radiation’s effect on the children conceived by men while getting radiation therapy. Because of this, doctors often advise men to not get a woman pregnant during and for some weeks after treatment. Talk to your doctor to find out more about this.
If the area getting radiation includes the testicles, it is possible that the dose of radiation can cause the testicles to no longer work (sterility) and that you would be unable to have children. It is important to know the risk of this possibility in advance of receiving radiation therapy. There is no clear research about how sperm that is exposed to radiation affects future children made from that sperm. If you are thinking about radiation therapy that will affect the testicles, talk to your doctor about how this might affect having children in the future.
Radiation Therapy Cost
The cost of radiation therapy in Iran starts from $140.
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How long does a full course of radiation usually take?
Most radiotherapy treatments are given 5 days a week and can last from one week to about 8 weeks, depending on the type of illness and prescription.