What Is Radiation Therapy?

What Is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy – it sounds intimidating to those of us who automatically hear the word “radiation” and feel uneasy, but we’re here to tell you it is anything but. It is a type of revolutionary cancer treatment that uses beams of energy to kill cancer cells. The energy that radiation therapy uses can be intense, and are often powered by x-rays, protons and other types of similar energy.

However radiation therapy is simply referring to the external beam. Energy beams are coming from state-of-the-art machines, like the ones at University Cancer Centers and are aimed at a certain part of the body. It is simply complex, which means that it is meant to destroy cancer cells in a designated area while using complex energy.

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?
Curious as to just how radiation therapy works? Radiation therapy damages cancer causing cells by breaking down and destroying the genetic material that controls just how cells divide and grow. So by concentrating these intense energy beams on certain areas it stops cancer cells from growing, which means the cancer stops spreading. One of the deadliest things about cancer is just how quickly it can grow and spread to other parts of the body, and in many cases is too large for the immune system to fight back.

For those concerned about radiation destroying the healthy cells in the body, they are correct – but only to a small point. While both healthy and cancerous cells are destroyed by radiation therapy, to innovations in medicine have allowed doctors the ability to target the cancerous cells and minimizes the destruction of these healthy cells.

Just the Facts

  • Depending on the type of cancer being treated a patient can receive radiation therapy before, during and after surgery.
  • Some patients can combine radiation therapy with other treatments, such as chemotherapy.
  • About half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy over the course of their treatment.

Why Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is given to patients one of two ways – with curative intent or with palliative intent. Curative intent means that doctors are hoping this treatment will cure cancer – by either eliminating tumors or used as tool to prevent cancer re occurrence. Palliative intent is treating the cancer to relieve symptoms and reduce any suffering caused by the cancer. The reason for radiation therapy will depend on the type and stage of your cancer.

The benefits of palliative therapy include:

  • Shrinking brain tumors formed from cancerous cells and preventing them from metastasizing.
  • Shrinking tumors that may be pressing on the spine or growing within the bone.
  • Shrinking tumors near the esophagus which affect a patient’s ability to eat or drink.

What can affect this type of cancer treatment: 

The type of therapy prescribed by a radiation oncologist depends on many factors, including:

  • The type of cancer.
  • The size of the cancer.
  • The cancer’s location in the body.
  • How close the cancer is to normal tissues that are sensitive to radiation.
  • How far into the body the radiation needs to travel.
  • The patient’s general health and medical history.
  • Whether the patient will have other types of cancer treatment.
  • Other factors, such as the patient’s age and other medical conditions.

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