There are several questions that come along with a cancer diagnosis. One of the first questions that patients ask is regarding the treatment of their newly diagnosed cancer. Patients want to know how they are going to rid their body of cancer. The answer most often, external radiotherapy.
External radiation, radiotherapy is treatment of cancer using a machine known as a linear accelerator to directly aim radiation beams to the cancerous tumors from outside the body. These beams are meant to shrink and/or destroy the cancerous tumor without harming the healthy tissue surrounding it. This is different from internal radiotherapy where radiation is delivered to the cancerous tumor within the body.
Radiotherapy works through a process of damaging the DNA that exists within the cancer cells. A patient’s personal DNA, which is genetic, is the code that controls how a patient’s body will behave during treatment.
Before a patient starts treatment their team of experts will create a plan and introduce it to the patient. It will include several elements including the short and long terms side effects of radiation. Most side effects are short terms and will disappear with medication and time.
Radiation therapy begins with a wide range of tests. These often include:
- CT Scans
- PET Scans
These scans and images will allow experts to develop a treatment plan that allows the highest dose of radiation to the cancer while trying to reduce the effects to the healthy tissues surrounding it.
When you are set to receive external radiotherapy you will have treatment in a radiotherapy department. Radiotherapy machines are large and can vary. The most common machine in delivering radiation is known as a linear accelerator, LINAC. A linear accelerator uses an electricity to create the beams of radiation. Patients will not feel the radiation that a LINAC gives off. There are possible side effects however these are rare.
Radiation therapy works because it can treat the cancerous cells and the bordering healthy tissues without harm. A high dose of therapy is given directly to the cancer and lower dose to the surrounding tissues.
Radiation is delivered in individual fractions that are smaller than the full dose. This ensures that the healthy cells surrounding the cancer to recover between treatments. Patients will have what is known as a series of smaller dose treatments which is known as radiotherapy fractions.
Radiotherapy is intended to relieve the symptoms of cancer including pain. This is known as a type of palliative radiotherapy, fewer fractions and sometimes just one. The radiotherapy dose with each radiotherapy fraction is larger but there are fewer fractions. Overall the radiotherapy dose is lower. Palliative treatment has a decrease in side effects and is used as a cure for cancer.
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