Cancer treatments are always progressing as people donate to research funds, and the quest for the cure continues. Although no one has found a true cure for cancer yet, oncologists use a wide variety of cancer treatments to eradicate cancer cells from their patients' bodies. One of these treatment options is cancer radiation therapy. Doctors use targeted radiation treatments to destroy DNA within cancer cells, causing them to die off over a period of weeks or months. To make sure the radiation reaches the cancer cells, doctors use the following treatment methods.
During external radiation treatments, patients sit in front of a radiation beam machine. The machine is lined up with the cancerous tissue and shoots concentrated beams of radiation into the cancerous cells. To line up the machine precisely for each appointment, some doctors tattoo markings on their patients' bodies that the machine can use as guidance marks. Depending on the location or locations of cancerous tissue, some machines move around the body to target multiple areas or hit a tumor from multiple angles.
External beam radiation therapy is useful for patients with localized tumors because it targets very precise areas on and in the body. Since radiation can damage or destroy healthy cells just as easily as it destroys cancer cells, the ability to focus the radiation only on cancerous tissue can protect patients from the worst side effects of radiation therapy. Patients should still expect to feel side effects, though, including fatigue, nausea, and skin irritation.
For cancerous tissue that is located deep within the body or in many locations within the body, doctors often use internal radiation treatments. Some of these treatments start as radioactive liquids that are either swallowed or injected into the bloodstream. From there, these liquids travel around the body, spreading radiation wherever they go. Some internal treatments are solid objects called seeds, capsules, or ribbons. These objects may be surgically implanted near the cancerous cells to provide constant, targeted radiation therapy to the surrounding area.
Internal radiation treatments have some advantages over external radiation therapy, including the ability to target deep tumors without damaging the skin and the ability to provide constant therapy without a lengthy hospital visit. They have some disadvantages, though. Liquid internal radiation treatments reach almost every part of the body, so patients may experience more side effects. Implanted radioactive objects include all of the common risks of surgical procedures. Doctors balance these concerns with the needs of their patients in order to use the best possible treatment.
To learn more about cancer radiation treatment, contact an oncologist in your area.