What is radiation therapy?

It is a cancer treatment used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors through high doses of radiation.

There are two main types of radiation therapy:

  • External beam radiotherapy: this is a local treatment, i.e. it treats a specific area of the body.
  • Internal radiation therapy: the treatment consists of placing the radiation source inside the patient’s body. This radiation source can be solid or liquid. Radiotherapy with a solid source is called brachytherapy and that with a liquid source is called systemic radiotherapy.

Why is it performed?

The treatment is used to destroy cancer cells and delay tumor growth without damaging nearby healthy tissue. More than half of all people with cancer receive some form of radiation therapy. In some cases it is the only treatment needed.

There are several applications for radiotherapy:

  • Before surgery, to reduce the dimensions of a tumor to make surgery easier.
  • After surgery or chemotherapy, to prevent the cancer from recurring.
  • In cases where it is not possible to eliminate the cancer, palliative radiotherapy can be used to reduce the size of tumors and attenuate symptoms.
  • In cases of cancers that cannot be removed.

Radiation therapy eliminates cancerous cells and reduces tumors.

What does it consist of?

Radiotherapy, in high doses, is capable of destroying cancer cells or slowing their growth by damaging their DNA. When cancer cells are damaged, they die, break down and are discarded by the body.

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Treatment with radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells immediately. It takes several days or weeks before the treatment begins to take effect. Once the cancer cells begin to die, they continue to die for weeks or months after the end of treatment.

To determine the type of radiation therapy, several factors must be considered:

  • The type of cancer
  • The size and location of the tumor
  • The proximity of the tumor to normal tissues that are sensitive to radiation.
  • The patient’s general health and age
  • Medical history

Preparation for radiation therapy

It is important to clearly inform the patient what the treatment will consist of, as well as an approximate length of time it will last and when it will be performed. Possible side effects should also be assessed.

Finally, the patient should be well nourished and have informed the team of medical professionals about any medications or supplements he/she is taking.

Care after the procedure

After the operation, the patient should continue to see a physician to evaluate the progress and check that the cancer does not return. Nutritional guidelines are recommended, including the intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In short, it is important to follow a healthy diet, as patients are more vulnerable to developing other medical conditions.

In addition, other guidelines such as smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding or minimizing alcohol and being physically active should be followed.

Alternatives to this treatment

There are alternatives to radiation therapy. In some cases, there are treatments that are used in combination with radiation therapy or after it has been completed. Some of them are:

  • Hormonal therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy