Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses a high dose or intensity of radiation to stop the growth and multiplication of cancer cells or kill them. It uses high-energy particles, x-rays, gamma rays, and proton or electron beam therapy to destroy cancer cells.
Radiotherapy can be local or systemic, depending on how the radiation is administered.
The aim of radiotherapy varies based on the characteristics of your cancer and your overall health and fitness. It would usually be one or more of the following:
Each type of radiotherapy is indicated for different cases of cancer. While external radiotherapy is used to treat a majority of cancers, brachytherapy is preferred for treating cancers of the head and neck region, breast, cervix, prostate and eye. Systemic radiation therapy with radioactive iodine (I-131) is used to treat thyroid cancer.
In some advanced prostate cancers or gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, targeted radionuclide therapy is used.
There are two primary types of radiotherapies- internal and external. The type of radiotherapy recommended for you by your doctor will depend upon factors, such as:
External radiotherapy uses a machine that aims high-energy radiation at your cancer cells to destroy them. The machine moves around you, emitting radiation to a specific part of your body, making this treatment a localised one. The Linear Accelerator or LINAC is the most commonly used machine for this radiotherapy.
External radiotherapy can be of various types, and the most suitable option is suggested for you based on the type of your cancer and its location in the body:
In internal radiotherapy, the radiation source (usually a solid or liquid) is placed inside your body. This treatment can be of two types, namely:
The main advantage of radiotherapy is that it may help to control the growth of the cancer.
Each treatment session will take about 30 minutes, or longer for SABR and usually it is completed as out patient.
Most patients are able to carry on with their daily life, such as going to work, if they feel up to it.
If there is presence of advanced cancer, radiotherapy can help control symptoms and relieve pain.
Radiation therapy may cause short-term and long-term side effects, and your doctor will discuss the same with you before starting treatment. Common side effects like tiredness or fatigue will improve after a few weeks of treatment.
Though radiotherapy treatment side effects will be limited to the area that is being treated, generalised side effects include:
Depending upon the area being treated, some long-term side effects of radiotherapy are:
Sometimes, the physical side effects of radiotherapy can also weigh in on you emotionally. Discuss how you feel with your doctor, healthcare team, or a loved one. Throughout your radiation therapy, you must remain positive as it reflects in your physical health and well-being.
Undergoing radiotherapy for your cancer treatment can be challenging, but your healthcare team will help you through it– from emotional support to helping you manage the side effects. Feel free to discuss your concerns with them. If you are unsure about any part of your treatment, seek a second opinion from another doctor who specialises in cancer.