June 30, 2017 3:23 pm
By: Micah Monaghan, MD
Board Certified Radiation Oncologist
West Cancer Center/The Cancer Center at Magnolia
Cancer may be the scariest word that a physician ever tells a patient. Radiation therapy may be the second most intimidating term for that same patient. This is likely because radiation is shrouded in mystery and myth and seems inaccessible to the general public. Most people have personal experience with surgery, and nearly all have observed patients who have lost their hair from chemotherapy thus feeling a passing familiarity with chemotherapy. Fewer patients receive radiotherapy and the effects of treatment are often invisible, so this valuable treatment is not as well known in the general population. This article attempts to familiarize the general public with radiation therapy and dispel some of the fear that comes from inadequate knowledge of the treatment.
First, a few statistics may highlight how commonly radiation is used to help cancer patients. Nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy at some point during their illness. Back in 2004, nearly one million patients in the United States were treated with radiation therapy. Sixty percent of the patients that year were treated for the first time with radiation, meaning 40 percent were receiving a repeat course of radiation. At least 75 percent of patients are treated with the intent to cure their cancer. The remainder of patients receive radiation to control the growth of their tumor or to relieve symptoms like pain; treatment to relieve symptoms without intent of cure is called palliative radiation. Palliative radiation may span from 1 to 15 treatments. Curative radiation usually requires 15 to 45 treatments depending on tumor type and other treatments received. Consequently, the “average” radiation patient receives 5-6 weeks of treatment. Breast, prostate, and lung cancers are the cancers most frequently treated with radiation, accounting for 56 percent of all radiation treatments.
Second, what on earth is radiation exactly and how does it help cure cancer? Radiation therapy typically describes the use of high energy X-rays generated by a large machine called a linear accelerator. The X-rays from the linear accelerator are aimed at the tumor from several feet away. The X-rays are invisible and painless, similar to getting a chest X-ray or CT scan. The radiation kills the cancer cells by damaging the genetic material, which prevents the cell from reproducing. Once the cancer cells die, the body naturally eliminates them. Normal cells are also affected by radiation, but they can repair themselves in ways the tumor cells cannot and avoid death. Any side effects of radiation treatment, other than fatigue, are specific to the area of the body that is being treated. The biggest myth and fear about radiation is being “burned up” by treatment. While breast and throat treatments cause mild to moderate skin irritation, most modern radiation treatments have no visible skin reaction.
Lastly, the radiation treatment team is important to your care. The physician who will care for you during your illness and who will oversee your radiation treatment is called a radiation oncologist. Radiation therapists are the specially trained technologists who actually deliver the treatment daily. Dosimetrists and physicists are the often invisible treatment team members who ensure the safety and quality of the technical aspects of radiation delivery. The radiation oncology clinic is also staffed with nursing and office staff as any other medical clinic.
For more information online, please visit the source of much of this article: www.rtanswers.org.
Appointments with Dr. Monaghan may be scheduled by calling (662) 293 – 7551. For more information on the medical and radiation oncology services offered at MRHC, please visit www.mrhc.org/departments-services/cancer-center/.
This post was written by Magnolia Regional Health Center