Radiation Therapy Overview
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy or irradiation, is one of the most common approaches to cancer therapy. Over half of all people with cancer will be treated with radiation therapy; sometimes the head area is also treated by radiotherapy or radiosurgery.
In contrast to chemotherapy, which can expose your entire body to drugs that fight cancer, radiation therapy is typically localized. Radiation aims high-energy rays precisely to destroy cancer cells, thereby minimizing the harm to healthy surrounding tissues. Radiotherapy damages the DNA inside cancer cells so they cannot continue to grow and divide, and they die instead. There are several different reasons radiation therapy may be used:
To shrink or cure early-stage cancer
Some cancers are highly sensitive to radiation, and this therapy may therefore be enough to cure your cancer completely. Radiation may also be administered in order to shrink a tumor before surgery, or used after surgery to help prevent the cancer from recurring. Sometimes, radiation is used along with chemotherapy, as specific chemo drugs (radiosensitizers) can enhance the effects of radiation by increasing the sensitivity of cancer cells to radiation.
To destroy cancer cells before bone marrow/stem cell transplantation
Prior to undergoing a bone marrow transplantation, radiation therapy may be administered to the entire body to destroy cancer cells in the bone marrow.
To prevent cancer from recurring
Cancer can spread from where it originated to other parts of your body. Sometimes, radiation may be used to treat the organ that your specific cancer spreads to most often, thereby killing any cancer cells before they form tumors.
To treat the symptoms of advanced cancer
When cancer has spread too extensively to be cured, the tumors can sometimes be treated with radiation in order to alleviate pain or other symptoms. This type of radiation therapy is called palliative radiation.
To treat a recurrence of cancer
Radiation may be used to treat a cancer that has returned, or to treat the resulting symptoms.
At Sheba Medical Center, we administer radiation therapy in the Radiation Unit. Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, our skilled and dedicated doctors will design the most effective program of radiation therapy for your condition. Typically, the treatment lasts for two weeks, with the patient receiving small doses of therapy each day.
In accordance with Sheba’s holistic approach to medicine, we will also pay attention to how the cancer is affecting your overall well-being and quality of life in order to determine the ideal radiation treatment plan.
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy can lead to a variety of side effects that vary widely from person to person. The side effects that you may experience depend on the type of radiation, the dose, and which part of your body is being treated (where the radiation is aimed). Your overall health condition is also significant. Sometimes the side effects are mild and limited, while other times there are many side effects and they are severe. There is no reliable way to predict how radiation will affect each individual.
In general, there are two categories of side effects from radiation therapy: early and late. Usually, early side effects appear immediately and are short-lived. Late side effects may only appear much later on, and they can be permanent.
Early Side Effects
- Skin problems
- Hair loss in the area being treated. This hair loss is temporary, and the hair will grow back after treatment.
In addition to the general side effects listed above, radiation therapy can have other, highly specific side effects related to the part of the body that is being treated. Before beginning radiation, your Sheba doctors will meet with you to discuss all of the possible side effects, so you know what to expect.
How is Radiation Therapy Administered?
First, it is important to note that before radiation can be administered, the patient undergoes a simulation.
The simulation is then tested on a mannequin.
Only after these stages are completed is the patient scheduled to undergo radiation therapy.
The above process describes the external radiation method of administering radiotherapy. In addition to external radiation, there are two other ways to administer radiotherapy:
- Internal radiation: Also called brachytherapy, this type of radiation involves implanting a sealed radioactive source inside or near the tumor. This can be done with either a temporary or permanent implant, depending on your type of cancer. Internal radiation enables a higher dose of radiation in a small area, while causing very little harm to nearby healthy cells.
- Systemic radiation: Radioactive drugs (radiopharmaceuticals) may be taken orally or injected intravenously to treat particular types of cancer, such as thyroid, prostate, and bone. These drugs travel throughout your bloodstream, and an attached antibody makes them bind to the cancer cells. There, they emit radiation and kill the cancer cells. You may need to be hospitalized while receiving this type of radiation therapy.
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Sheba Medical Center provides innovative, personalized medical care to patients from around the world. We are the largest, most comprehensive hospital in the Middle East and dedicated to providing advanced and compassionate medicine for everyone. We welcome all cases, including the rarest and the most challenging. Our medical teams collaborate to provide the best possible health outcomes. From your initial inquiry through the long-term follow-up care, we are here for you.
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