External Radiotherapy: Beating Cancer with Radiation
One of the most popular options in treating cancerous tumors is with the use of external radiotherapy. There are several types of external radiotherapy options for doctors to choose from when treating each unique patient needs with the overall principal of the therapy being the same. Radiation is delivered to the source of the cancer using a high-powered beam.
Linear accelerators are one type of machine that can deliver radiation to the source without causing severe damage to the healthy tissues surrounding the area. External radiotherapy is used to destroy cancerous cells and is administer by LINAC systems that deliver high energy x-ray beams known as photon beams. Other systems deliver radiotherapy through particle beams, such as protons and electrons. The principle is similar in both as the beam of radiation is aimed at an internal cancer source as treatment.
The DNA in cancerous cells is damaged through external radiotherapy. DNA is either damaged directly or through particles called free radicals that damage them. This keeps the cancerous cells from growing or kills. When the cells die they are broken down by the body and removed as waste. Normal healthy cells surrounding the cancerous tumor are damaged slightly however they can usually repair themselves over time.
Treatment is not started until you have spoken to your doctor about possible short- and long-term side effects. Most often side effects can be controlled with medication and are temporary. The treatment is planned based off of the images that have been taken of the cancer via x-ray, CT scans, MRI’s, and/or PET scans. The plan will ensure a higher dose of treatment to the cancerous tumor. Treatment is given in the radiotherapy department of the hospital. Machines in the radiotherapy department such as linear accelerators, are very big and can be a bit scary.
LINAC machines use electricity to create the beams of radiation that are delivered to the cancer. During treatment the machine never actually touches you and nothing is felt during treatment. There may be some side effects of discomfort and pain that can be managed with medication. For the treatment to work well, the radiotherapy needs to cover all of the cancer and the border around it using the lowest dose possible to reduce any side effects.
When choosing the treatment that you will need your radiotherapy doctor will consider the following:
- The type of cancer you have
- The position of the cancer within your body
- Treatments that you have had in the past, are currently having, and that are planned
- Your general wellness, health, and fitness levels
Your external radiotherapy treatment is individualized to each and every patient.
The entire course of treatment can last anywhere between one to six weeks but can be longer. This is determined by your doctor and how well you are responding to treatment. The treatment that is put in place will be based on a personal routine that you can easily follow.
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