Radiation therapy is a kind of treatment for cancer that uses special kind of high-energy beam to destroy cancerous cells. Some example of energy beams are x-rays or light. The mechanism that uses the radiation therapy is to destroy cancerous cell by destroying their DNA so their growth slows down or stops. Radiation other than cancerous cells affects even normal cells, damaging them.
Normal healthy cells are organized cells and if under radiation they are capable to repair themselves at a certain level and survive the treatment, while cancerous cells are less organized or not organized at all they are more easily killed by radiation.
There are two three of radiation treatment:
- External Radiation – Radiation from outside the body with a machine called a linear accelerator. This form of therapy is given for 5 days a week over 5-7 weeks and the doses are giving by your doctor. You don’t have to stay in a hospital during treatment you can go there only on days you have to receive treatment.
- Internal Radiation – Radiation from inside the body with pellets, or seeds of material that give off radiation beams. These seeds or pellet are placed in the area around where the cancer was emitting radiation into the surrounding tissue. Internal radiation is usually delivered using multiple small tubes or catheters. During treatment you will have to stay in the hospital because there is radio activity inside your body. As soon as the treatment stops, the radioactive seeds and tubes are removed and you can leave the treatment center. This treatment usually takes one week with 2 treatments each day.
- Intra-operative Radiation – These kind of radiation is given during lumpectomy surgery after the cancer has been removed. A single high dose of radiation is given in the same place where the breast cancer was. One method uses the linear accelerator to deliver the electron beam in the selected area, another method uses a small tube placed in the area where the breast cancer was. This kind of treatment is given only in certain hospitals because it is a relatively new technique with very expensive equipment.
Radiation therapy might be used for the breast area, lymph nodes, or another part of the body and generally is used after breast cancer surgery. It is important because it lowers the risk for breast cancer recurrence in the remaining breast tissue or in the lymph nodes. The surgeon can’t remove all cancerous cells during surgery because they are too small to be seen. If some cells are left after surgery they eventually form a new lump causing a recurrent breast cancer. Radiotherapy also assures a longer life for breast cancer patients, and to remain cancer free longer than patient who doesn’t receive it.
Radiation side effects:
- Skin reactions– The most uncomfortable side effect involves the skin of the area which received radiation beams. The skin will be like sunburn, red, itchy, burning and peeling. The skin might also be dry sore and sensitive to touch. The irritated skin should be treated carefully because might get infected and worsen the situation. The good news is that skin irritations from radiation therapy are only temporary and a week after ending treatment it will start to get better.
- Tiredness and Fatigue – During radiation therapy you might feel tired all the time without no specific cause and you may also lose interest in people and things you did in your everyday life. Some symptoms may be lack of energy, feeling sleepy, paying less attention for your appearance, trouble thinking speaking or concentrating.
- Nausea – feeling sick all the time increase the feeling of fatigue and tiredness worsening the situation.
These are the most common side effect a person with breast cancer might feel. You have to talk to your doctor about everything that is causing you discomfort and together choose the best way to resolve it. Also other side effects might happen to specific persons like: chest pain, heart problems, low white blood cell count, lung problems, etc. But these side effect depend on the general situation of the body even before the radiation treatment starts.
Contraindications for radiation therapy:
- When you already had radiation to a specific area of the body, you can’t repeat the treatment in the same area. You might get overexposed to radiation, so more than you body can handle.
- When pregnant because radiation can seriously risk your babies health or even life
- When having connective tissue disease like vasculities or scleroderma that makes you even more sensitive to radiation side effects.