Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) is a treatment that uses radiation to destroy cancer cells with high-energy radioactive rays. X-rays are most commonly used one, but other types of energy, such as protons, can also be used. Nowadays, thanks to the developing computer technology, the target focused machines, the treatment success increases and the side effects are gradually decreasing. Radiotherapy process is in two ways, either externally or internally, but they have similar effects. During treatment, high-energy rays are sent from a machine outside the body. In Brachytherapy, a type of radiation therapy, the radiation source is placed inside the body. Radiotherapy may have various side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, mouth sores, skin problems.
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Radiotherapy is a type of cancer treatment using high-dose radiation to kill cancer cells and reduce tumors. Low doses of radiation are used for diagnostic purposes, such as x-ray film or computed tomography. Radiotherapy destroys cancer cells, stops them from growing and prevents them from spreading.
There are different types of radiotherapy. Your doctor will determine the most appropriate type of treatment for you. It is usually completed in multiple sessions over a few weeks. External and internal radiotherapy are the most common types.
An external machine is used to carefully target cancer cells with radiation beams. The machine is large and can be noisy. During the application, it does not come into contact with the body, it sends radiation beams to a part of the body in many ways. External radiation therapy is a local treatment, it targets at a specific part of the body. For example, if you have cancer in your lung, radiation is applied not to the entire body, but only to your chest.
The radiation source may be solid or liquid.
Radiation therapists and oncologists work together when applying radiation therapy. An oncologist will decide the dose and type of radiation prior to treatment. The treatment is carried out in several sessions over several weeks. Many people are treated five sessions a week. However, the sessions may vary depending on the stage and type of cancer.
Different types of radiotherapy are applied in different ways:
Radiotherapy is usually performed in a series of sessions with a daily small dose of radiation for 3 to 9 weeks. Before the start of the treatment, your care team will plan the type of radiotherapy you will receive, how many sessions you need, and how often you need treatment. Each session takes approximately 10 minutes.
Paying attention to your body health during treatment allows you to be less affected by side effects and to see maximum benefit from treatment. You must follow the advice of your doctor. You can get help from a dietitian for proper nutrition.
High-dose radiation is used to destroy cancer cells. Side effects are caused by damage to healthy cells and tissues close to the treated area. However, since new developments in radiotherapy make the target more precise, side effects now have decreased compared to the past. Healthy cell damage due to radiotherapy occurs with many different side effects such as nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, pain and redness of the skin, wounds in the mouth, hair loss.
Cancer treatments can cause nausea and vomiting. Controlling nausea and vomiting will help you to feel better and prevent more serious problems such as malnutrition and dehydration.
Hair loss is a common side effect in radiotherapy. But unlike chemotherapy, hair loss is limited to the treated area. Hair loss usually occurs 2-3 weeks after treatment. A few weeks after the end of the treatment new hair grows. However, this new hair may sometimes have a slightly different structure or color than before. In high dose radiotherapy, hair loss can be permanent.
Some people who receive radiotherapy may experience skin dryness, itching, blistering or peeling. These side effects vary depending on which part of the body is being treated. Skin problems usually disappear after a few weeks of treatment.
If the bone marrow cells are affected after radiotherapy, the number of cells called platelets is reduced. It is a rare condition and usually manifests itself in the form of purple spots under the skin.
Head and neck radiotherapy can cause irritation in the mouth and painful wounds called mucositis. The symptoms of mucositis tend to develop within a few weeks after the start of treatment.Your doctor may recommend a pain medication or a special mouthwash. Avoiding spicy, salty or heavy foods can also help. Mucositis usually heals after a few weeks of treatment, but dry mouth may be a long-term problem.
Fatigue is seen in many patients after radiotherapy. This usually begins during treatment and can continue for several weeks or several months after the treatment is finished.
Radiotherapy can affect bone marrow producing white blood cells and other blood cells fighting infection. However, since it usually affects only the treated area, the possibility of affecting white blood cells is quite rare compared to chemotherapy. If your white blood cell count decreases too much (neutropenia), your risk of having an infection increases. In order for blood values to return to normal, a short interruption of treatment may be required.
Various infections such as influenza, meningitis, pneumonia and mucositis can be seen after radiotherapy. Adequate and balanced nutrition is important for you to protect from them. Patients should be vaccinated against various infections such as flu, pneumonia, and take vitamin and mineral supplements. Individuals undergoing infection should be avoided, and a mask should be worn when going out.
Diarrhea is a common side effect of radiotherapy applied to the abdominal or inguinal region. It usually occurs a few days after the start of treatment. Diarrhea may become more severe as treatment continues. It should disappear after a few weeks of treatment.
Radiotherapy can cause various sexual and fertility-related side effects in men and women. For men, side effects often occur after radiation therapy to the prostate and testes. Erectile dysfunction, low sperm count and activity are possible side effects. The following side effects may be seen in radiation treatments applied to the reproductive organs in women:
Evidence suggests that some agents such as certain dietary supplements and preservatives have antioxidant properties and hence inhibit the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. So, it is important to inform your doctor about any drugs, supplements and herbal methods that you use before radiotherapy.