Radiotherapy, or radiation therapy, is therapy using ionizing radiation, usually X-rays, to damage the DNA of cancer cells. It is usually part of treatment plan for cancer, either benign or malignant tumours.
Radiotherapy can be used to cure cancers (curative), control symptoms (palliative), shrink a tumour before surgery to reduce risk (neoadjuvant), kill remaining cancer cells after surgery to prevent cancer from coming back (adjuvanant) and kill old bone marrow cells to prepare for bone marrow transplant (total body irradiation). It can also be coupled with chemotherapy – usage of chemical substances, synergistically.
Your oncologist will calculate the total dosage required. Over several weeks, a number of individual treatments (fractions) delivering a small dose of radiation daily for every visit (attendances) will be given, typically five treatments a week. In some cases, radiation may be given more than once a day or over the weekend. The whole course of treatment usually lasts between one and seven weeks. Depending on the aim of the radiotherapy, number of fractions and attendances may vary.
Radiotherapy can be carried out from outside the body (external radiotherapy) using a machine called the linear accelerator to focus high energy particles onto target area, which is completely painless. It can also be done from within the body (internal radiotherapy), by drinking liquid that will dissolve specifically in cancer cells or placing radioactive substance near to targeted cells.
It is normal to feel anxious about radiotherapy. You can consult friends and family who have had radiotherapy, or speak to your GP regarding your worries. Before starting radiotherapy, you should discuss the risks with your treatment team. After understanding the procedure and the risks involved, you will be required to sign a consent form before beginning radiotherapy.
As radiotherapy damages nearby healthy cells while killing cancerous cells, there may be side effects. Severity of side effects depends on dosage and part of body that has undergone radiotherapy.
Common short-lived side effects include tiredness, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, vaginal narrowing, stiff joints and muscles and sore skin. Most side effects should go away after a few days or weeks after the treatment has completed.
It is also possible, although rarely, to develop long-term side effects. This includes infertility in men and women, changes to skin colour, and second cancer – increased risk of developing certain types of cancer years after treatment.
After your treatment, you will be given information about your recovery, on how to take care of the area and ways to cope with possible side effects. You may also be booked in for regular follow up appointments to check your recovery progress.
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Doctify Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. In the event of an emergency, please call 999 for immediate assistance.