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Radiation Therapy Frequently asked Questions
1. How does radiation therapy work / What is Radiotherapy?

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is the use of various forms of radiation to safely and effectively treat cancer and other diseases. Radiation may be used to cure cancer, control growth of cancer, or relieve symptoms, such as pain. Normal cells are able to repair themselves, whereas cancer cells cannot. Radiation therapy works by damaging the effected cells.

Sometimes radiation may be the only treatment a patient needs. At other times, it is a part of a patient’s treatment. For example, prostate and larynx cancer are often treated with radiotherapy alone, while breast cancer may be treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Radiation may also be used to make the primary treatment more effective. For example, patients can be treated with radiation therapy before surgery, to help shrink the cancer and allow less extensive surgery, than would otherwise be needed; or patients may be treated with radiation after surgery to destroy small amounts of cancer that may have been left behind. Should the radiation oncologist choose to use only radiation therapy, in that case, radiation may be used to; destroy tumors that may have not spread to other parts of your body, or reduce the risk of recurring cancer after surgery, or administer chemotherapy by killing the small amounts of cancer that might remain.

Sometimes, the objective of radiation therapy is to slow the growth of cancer as much as possible. In other cases, it is to reduce the symptoms caused by growing tumors, and improve quality of life, as in the palliative care our hospital offers, where the radiation may be used to shrink tumors that are interfering with the quality of life; like reliving extreme bonny pains in case of a metastatic disease.

2. What are the different kinds of Radiation?

Radiation therapy can be delivered in two ways, externally and internally. During external beam radiation therapy, the radiation oncology team uses a machine to direct high-energy X-rays at the cancer. Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, involves placing radioactive sources (for example, radioactive seeds) inside the body for a few minutes through catheters or other applicators

3. Is Radiation Therapy safe?

Radiation has been used to treat patients for over 100 year’s successfully. Over the years, many advances have been made to ensure that radiation therapy is safe and effective.

Before commencing radiation therapy, the radiation oncology team will customize the treatment plan for safe and accurate treatment. The treatment plan is carefully crafted to focus on the cancer while avoiding healthy tissues or organs in the area. Throughout the treatment, the planning team continuously checks the plan to ensure that proper treatment is being given. In the case of external beam radiation therapy, the patient is not radioactive after treatment, because the radiation does not stay in the body.

In the case of brachytherapy, tiny radioactive sources are placed through catheters etc. inside the body, in the tumor or in the tissue surrounding the tumor, either temporarily or permanently. The radiation oncologist will explain special precautions that the patient, family and friends may need to take.

4. Are there any side effects?

Radiation therapy is usually well tolerated and many patients are able to continue a normal life after therapy. Though, some patients may eventually develop painful side effects. Many of the side effects of radiation therapy are only in the area being treated. These side effects are usually temporary and can be treated.

Side effects are usually seen by the second or third week of treatment, and may last over few weeks after treatment is done.

5. Does radiation therapy harm surrounding organs?

Damage to the surrounding areas of the body depends on the type and location of radiation. For example, radiation for men with prostate cancer - they may experience bowel or bladder problems because these organs are located very close to each other. While our technology allows aiming the radiation precisely at the tumor, organs too close to the tumour may be affected a little.

6. Is radiation therapy painful?

No. radiation therapy can’t be felt. It’s just like a routine CT scan and is not painful.

7. Does radiation therapy cause infertility?

That depends on where the radiation is being given, if the ovaries or testiest are not in the field of radiation then there is no question of infertility. However, in case of radiation therapy to the pelvic area, it can affect the reproductive system. In some women, permanent infertility can occur, but this is only if both ovaries receive radiation. For men, receiving radiation therapy to the testes or to nearby organs, such as the prostate, will have lowered sperm counts and reduced sperm activity, which in turn affects fertility.

8. Does radiation treatment make a person lose his or her hair?

Radiation therapy is a local treatment; it affects the area of the body where the radiation is directed only. Normally, people do not lose their hair due to radiation therapy, unless it is aimed at the scalp.

9. Should radiation therapy patients avoid physical contact with friends and family because of possible radioactivity?

External-beam radiation therapy does not make a person radioactive. The radiation is delivered to the body from a machine located in the treatment room so there is no radiation left behind once the treatment machine is turned off. However, with internal radiation therapy (like in case of permanent implants) brachytherapy does emit radiation. Therefore, those patients receiving internal radiation therapy by permanent implant need to take specific precautions for a period of time, in order to reduce exposing other’s to radiation.

Brachytherapy with temporary implant don’t make the patient radioactive once the implant is taken out. 

10. What is External Beam Radiation Therapy?

External beam radiation therapy is a beam of radiation being directed through the skin into the cancerous cells and the immediate surrounding area, in order to destroy the tumor and nearby cancer cells. The treatment is planned in a manner that gives the body enough time to heal in between sessions.

The radiation beam is generated by our Linear Accelerator, Versa HDcapable of producing high-energy X-rays and electrons for the most accurate treatment of cancer. Using high-tech treatment planning software, your treatment team controls the size and shape of the beam, as well as how it is directed at your body, to effectively treat your tumor while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.