What we know as radio therapy, radiation therapy, radiation oncology, or radiotherapy is a form of ionizing radiation treatment used for medical purposes, principally for treating cancer, in order to destroy malignant cells.
In addition this therapy is also used for non cancer conditions such as keloid scar growth, severe thyroid eye disease, pterygium and many other conditions.
There are several types of radio therapy, and each is used as per each patient’s individual circumstances relating to the disease, their health, the position of their cancer and which kind will work best for them.
Radiation therapy is usually used after surgical removal of a cancerous tumor to destroy any remaining cancer cells while trying to conserve healthy surrounding tissue.
External radiation therapy uses Gamma and X rays and is used for external cancers or those which the radiation can directly target such as prostate, vaginal or cervical cancer, breast, lung, larynx or brain cancer and so on.
Internal radiotherapy or Brachytherapy is given by placing the source of the radiation inside the body; within or close to the tumor.
Sealed source radio therapy uses sealed vials, seeds or capsules that are implanted into the body. In unsealed source therapy, there is directing injection into the body that takes place.
In addition there is a systemic form of radiation therapy that requires the oral administration of radioactive materials and may be used for cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or that of the thyroid.
Total body irradiation
In this type of radio therapy, the entire body is subjected to radiation and can be used in cases when bone marrow transplant is done and the body’s immune system response has to be lowered.
This type of radiation is given at the time that the surgery for removing the tumor is performed. The person is typically given this type of radiation while the surgery is in progress though the doctors and nurses involved in the procedure typically leave the operation theater for the time being.
What are the side effects of radio therapy?
When it is administered radiotherapy itself is painless, however there would be some side effects such as-
- Palliative treatments that are low dose may have no side effects or very few side effects.
- There could be discoloration of the treated skin rather like mild sun burn or irritation and the skin may show a permanent loss of elasticity in the area that was subject to the radiation beams.
- Fatigue is a frequent side effect of radiotherapy.
- There could be a short term flare up of pain due to edema compressing the nerves in the area that received radiation. However this may be for just a few days after treatment.
- Swelling or edema of tissue may also occur.
- Infertility may occur if the testicles or the ovaries were subjected to radiation.
- Secondary malignancies are ironically a threat with this type of cancer treatment.
- Diarrhea and nausea could be among the side effects of radio therapy.