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Radiotherapy

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Radiotherapy

We know about the devastating effects that ionizing radiation can have on the human body. But the same ionizing radiation has helped medical science combat one of the deadliest diseases known to man, Cancer. In this article, we go through how and why radiation therapy is used in the treatment of cancer, the types of radiotherapy, and its side effects on the human body.

Radiotherapy treatment

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is a treatment for cancer that involves killing the cancer-causing cells using high doses of radiation.

The type of radiation used can vary depending on the type of cancer that is being treated. Radiation therapy can be administered in two ways. External beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy.

Overexposure to X-ray machines can damage the DNA in the cells leading to cancer. This is why doctors place a limit on the number of X-rays a patient is exposed to. X-ray machines produce low-powered X-rays that can damage the body in large doses. A single X-ray will not expose the body to any harm but the people who operate X-rays machines need to exercise precautions to limit their exposure to these rays.

External beam radiation therapy

External beam radiation is produced by a machine that directs the ionizing radiation at the cancer cells. The machine will be able to move around the person undergoing treatment. It treats a specific part of the body. For example, radiotherapy for breast cancer consists of directing radiation only towards the region between the neck and the abdomen.

Internal radiation therapy

Internal radiation is when the source of radiation is placed inside the body of a person undergoing treatment. The radiation source can be a capsule which is then placed close to the tumour in the body. This means that the tumour will be exposed directly to the highest intensity dose of radiation.

How does it work?

So then how does radiation therapy stop the spread of cancer? Radiation therapy makes use of high-energy beams of gamma rays to destroy tumours. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells can multiply uncontrollably quickly. The ionizing radiation beams slow down the growth by breaking down the DNA of the cancer cells.

Radiation in Cancer Therapy Radiation on cancer cells StudySmarterRadiationThis is an example of a radiopharmaceutical used in internal radiotherapy treatments. Radioactive compounds are attached to 'targeting molecules' which can bind to 'target proteins' attached to cancer cells. cancer.gov

Normal cells that are exposed to the radiation are also damaged but can repair themselves to a certain extent. Cancer cells on the other hand do not have the ability to repair themselves after damage from radiation.

Lifetime dose limits define the maximum amount of radiation dosage a human body can receive in its lifetime. If a person has already received radiation therapy, they may not be able to receive this treatment again. different areas of the body can be treated given they have a great enough distance between them.

Radiotherapy machine

One of the most commonly used radiotherapy machines is called a Linear accelerator (LINAC). The linear accelerator converts electricity into high-energy X-rays or electron beams. The beams are then directed towards the patient's tumour.

Radiation in Cancer Therapy Linear accelerator used in radiotherapy StudySmarterLinear accelerator used for radiotherapy, Radiology Info

It works by accelerating electrons towards a heavy metal target. This collision produces high-energy X-ray beams as they exit the machine. The patient is placed on a bed that is part of the machine. The beam exits out of a movable head that can rotate around the patient's bed. This allows radiation to be delivered to the desired body part.

Radiotherapy side effects

We've studied how radiation therapy can eliminate cancer cells. However, it is important to understand that ionizing radiations will ultimately also affect healthy cells around the tumour. The side effects can vary depending on the body part that is exposed to radiation. Some of the common side effects of radiation therapy are

  • Nausea

  • Hair-loss

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Diarrhoea

Cells that are damaged from radiation therapy usually recover back to normal in a few months after treatment. But there is a possibility that the side effects do not reduce with time. Certain side effects may show up even months or years after radiation therapy. These side-effects are called late effects.

That brings us to the end of this article. Let's look at what we've learned so far.

Radiotherapy - Key takeaways

  • Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is a treatment for cancer that involves killing the cancer-causing cells using high doses of radiation.
  • Radiation therapy can be administered in two ways: external beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy.
  • External beam radiation is produced by a machine that directs the ionizing radiation at the cancer cells.
  • Internal radiation therapy is when the source of radiation is placed inside the body of a person undergoing treatment.
  • One of the most commonly used radiotherapy machines is called a Linear accelerator (LINAC).
  • Ionizing radiations also affect healthy cells around the tumour.
  • Side effects can vary depending on the body part that is exposed to radiation.
  • Some of the common side effects of radiation therapy include Nausea, Hair-loss, Cough, Shortness of breath, and Diarrhoea.

Frequently Asked Questions about Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is used as a treatment for cancer by killing the cancer-causing cells using high doses of radiation.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to reduce the size of the tumors. Radiation therapy uses high-energy X rays and electron beams to kill them.

Radiotherapy works by using ionizing radiation beams to slow down the growth of tumors. They break down the DNA of the cancer cells resulting in killing them or stunting their growth. Normal cells that are exposed to the radiation are also damaged but can repair themselves to a certain extent. Cancer cells on the other hand do not have the ability to repair themselves after damage from radiation.

Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer that involves killing the cancer-causing cells using high doses of radiation.

Common side effects of radiotherapy include:

  • Nausea
  • Hair-loss
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhoea

The side effects can vary depending on the body part that is exposed to radiation.

Final Radiotherapy Quiz

Question

Which type of radiation is used in treating cancer

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Answer

X rays

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Question

What are the types of radiotherapy

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Answer

External beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy.

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Question

Over exposure to X-ray machines can lead to cancer

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Answer

True

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Question

Cancer is caused due to a change in 

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Answer

DNA of cells

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Question

Cancer cells can repair themselves after exposure to radiation

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Answer

False

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Cancer cells multiply much faster than normal cells

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Answer

True

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Question

A cluster of cancer cells is called a 

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Answer

Tumour

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Question

Radiotherapy is the same as chemotherapy

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Answer

False

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Question

What is lifetime radiation dose?

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Answer

Maximum radiation limit for a human body

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Question

Radiotherapy only affects cancer cells

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Answer

False

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Question

Side effects of cancer that can appear after a long time are called 

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Answer

Late effects

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Question

What are some common side effects of radiotherapy?

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Answer

  • Nausea
  • Hair-loss
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhoea

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Question

How does radiotherapy cure cancer?

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Answer

Slow the growth of cancer cells

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Question

Give an example of a radiotherapy machine

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Answer

Linear accelerator (LINAC)

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Question

All types of cancer can be treated using the same radiation

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Answer

False

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