What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is a common oncologic treatment modality utilizing ionizing radiation to control or eliminate the malignant cells. Radiotherapy may be used alone or synergistically with chemotherapy or immunotherapy. The type of radiation therapy used depends on the disease and specific type of cancer being treated.
Radiotherapy plays a part in
- Primary curative treatment (head and neck cancer).
- Adjuvant therapy (reducing the recurrence rate after local breast cancer surgery).
- Palliation of cancer symptoms (reducing pain from bone metastases).
- Treating non-malignant disease such as Graves’ thyroiditis and keloid scarring.
- Nearly two-thirds of all patients with cancer who receive radiation therapy.
There are no good estimates of how many of these patients will develop complications due to radiation therapy. Common general side effects of radiation therapy:
- Ulcers in the mouth and stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Radiation dermatitis/Erythema
- Hair loss
- Low blood cell count
- Skin rash or sores
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
The reason radiation therapy works is that it damages the DNA of the cells. Rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, are more affected by radiation therapy than normal cells. The body may respond to this damage with fibrosis or scarring, although this is generally a mild process and typically does not cause any long-term problems that substantially affect the quality of life.