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How Radiation Therapy Works?

To start with, Radiation is high energy waves emitted from the source. It can be light, heat and even plasma. Radiation therapy involves killing the cancer cells by tapping this high energy.

Radiation Therapy

Generation of Radiation:

  • It may be emitted from a machine outside the patient.
  • Or by placing a radioactive material near the cancer cells
  • Radioactive material is injected into the blood stream too.


  • We know that cells multiply and grow in the body. Cancer cells do the same thing with a higher rate
  • The radiation penetrated into the body interacts with the DNA of cancer cells, slowing their growth constantly, killing them.
  • The difference between Radiation therapy and Chemotherapy is that the former is more local. It involves approximately the reaction on only the cancer cells. In Chemotherapy, the entire body has to face the medicines given.

But in the process, even the normal cells around may get damaged. But as time passes, they come back to normal causing very little effects. Radiation therapy has many side effects, long term, and short term. Some cannot be avoided so, it is important to keep in touch with doctors all the while and take suggestions from them to overcome the side effects.

Steps for Staging a Radiation Therapy Session

This treatment is given in both curable and non-curable cases. In curable cases, it is used to eliminate the tumor, kill the cells etc. In non- curable cases, it is used to relieve the pain and give the patient certain abilities like eating and drinking. Also, it can control the tumor size, but not eliminate it.

  • When symptoms occur, scans like CT, MRI are done.
  • The tumor area is detected and the size and nature is analyzed.
  • According to this, the radiation amounts are determined, duration of the treatment, angle to which radiation must be given and many more.

Types of Radiation Therapies

1. External beam radiation therapy

Radiation is given in the form of photons. Energy of the photons depends upon the nature of the cancer cell treated. Again this major branch of therapy is divided into some types:-

  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy: In this process, the radiation emitted out is controlled in very small ranges of volumes, so that the radiation is just applied on the shape of the cancer cell while not affecting nearby cells.
  • Image-guided Radiation Therapy: Images of the tumor are produced throughout the treatment; in order to increase the precision and accuracy of the radiation delivered.
  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery: Less number of high doses of radiation is given. One factor for this treatment is that the cancer cells must have well-defined edges.
  • Proton Therapy: Instead of Photons, protons are used. Since protons dissipate energy at the end of their path, they are also used to kill cancer cells.

2. Internal Radiation Therapy

  • Radioactive substances are placed inside the body in the form of pellets which contain the isotopes. They are placed through needles, catheters etc. They give off radiation with the decay, which destroys the cancer cells.
  • Low doses and high doses can be given with the help of this treatment.

3. Systematic Radiation Therapy

  • Through injection or swallowing a person takes in radioactive substances. Most commonly used is Radioactive Iodine.
  • An antibody is attached to this radioactive substance, helping it to locate and kill the tumor in the body.
  • Both the antibody and the substance travel through the blood stream.

Side Effects of Radiation therapy

Radiation is harmful by nature to human beings. Side effects can occur in the period of days or even after some years. Acute or early side effects include:-

  • Hair loss
  • Skin irritation and damage
  • Urinary problems due to treatment on abdomen

Fatigue is an extremely intriguing problem which comes with this therapy. In many ways, it is different from everyday fatigue. With rest, it shows no signs of going. In order to handle this, it is important to take medicines regularly, No over-scheduling, Conservation, and management of energy.

Chronic or long-term side effects include:-

  • Infertility
  • Loss of Memory
  • Fibrosis
  • Though rarely, even a second cancer can be developed.

Apart from this, even the sense organs are affected. Eating problems occur due to loss of appetite, mouth problems occur due to lack of saliva or thickened saliva, stiffness, pain in swallowing.

What is the Future of Radiation therapy?

  • Real time imaging is being worked out so that it provides real-time views during cancer treatment.
  • They are working on radio sensitizers which can alter the way the body cell responds to radiation, thus has the potential to lower cell damage effects.

Cancer is no less than a battle, battle with oneself. People who come out victories are one who has unmatched passion to live, everlasting determination to achieve all undone goals. Path to recovery is painful, but world is a different place when out of it. So if you are lucky enough to not have been diagnosed with it live life aplenty now. Our survival is in our minds.


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