Friday, March 5, 2010

Radiation Therapy

I've been reading up on radiation since my mother is a good candidate for it (if she has a lumpectomy). I was under the impression that radiation is easier on the body than chemotherapy but the more I learn about radiation, the less I think that. But patients should only experience side effects related to the area of the body being given the radiation therapy. Side effects usually begin by the second or third week of treatment, and they may last for several weeks after the final radiation treatment. In rare instances, serious side effects develop after radiation therapy is finished. The side effect most often reported by patients receiving radiation is fatigue. The fatigue patients experience is usually not very severe, and patients can often continue all or some of their normal daily activities with a reduced schedule. Many patients continue to work full time during radiation therapy.
Tumors are made up of cells that are reproducing at abnormally high rates. Radiation therapy specifically acts against cells that are reproducing rapidly. Normal cells are programmed to stop reproducing (or dividing) when they come into contact with other cells. In the case of a tumor, this stop mechanism is missing, causing cells to continue to divide over and over. It is the DNA of the cell that makes it capable of reproducing. Radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays to damage the DNA of cells, thereby killing the cancer cells, or at least stopping them from reproducing. Radiation also damages normal cells, but because normal cells are growing more slowly, they are better able to repair this radiation damage than are cancer cells. In order to give normal cells time to heal and to reduce a patient's side effects, radiation treatments are typically given in small daily doses, five days a week, over a six-or seven-week period. It is estimated that more than 50% of cancer patients will receive radiation at some point during their treatment.
Radiation therapy is considered to be a "local" therapy, meaning it treats a specific localized area of the body. This is in contrast to systemic therapies, such as chemotherapy, which travel throughout the body. There are two main types of radiation therapy: external radiation therapy, where a beam of radiation is directed from outside the body, and internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy or implant therapy, where a source of radioactivity is surgically placed inside the body near the tumor. We should know next week what she will be facing.

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