The branch of medicine dealing with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer is called oncology. The subdivisions of oncology include medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgical oncology. Cancer is an umbrella term for a group of diseases which involves abnormal cell growth causing potential invasion to other parts of the body and the branch of science dealing with the treatment of cancer is oncology.
Radiotherapy is a kind of cancer treatment which involves the use of high energy rays, such as X-rays or rays of electrons to treat the disease. In this therapy, the cancer cells are destroyed using these rays. Normal cells along with the cancerous cells also get destroyed due to exposure to the strong rays. However, normal cells can restore themselves but cancerous cells cannot.
Radiotherapy is planned very carefully to avoid the damage to as many healthy tissues as possible. However, damage to some healthy tissues is inevitable, which is the major side effect of this treatment.
Usage of Radiotherapy-
A lot of patients with cancer have radiotherapy as a part of their cancer treatment. The reasons behind using radiotherapy could be-
- Curative reason- radiotherapy is suggested with the aim of destroying a certain tumor and thus curing cancer with it. This is also known as radical treatment.
- Palliative reason- radiotherapy is recommended to the patients when there is no possible way to cure cancer, but with this treatment. The further growth of the tumor can be controlled or the various symptoms such as pain or coughing can be relieved.
Ways of Radiotherapy Treatment-
There are two ways in which radiotherapy is commonly given-
- The radiotherapy which is given from outside the body is known as external beam radiotherapy.
- The radiotherapy given using a material that is placed inside the body is called internal radiotherapy.
The type of radiotherapy to be given to the patient depends on the type of cancer the patient has and the body part which is affected by it. Some cancers require both external and internal radiotherapy.
In certain situations, chemotherapy is required to be given to the patients along with radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiotherapy or chemoradiation. Chemotherapy basically uses anti-cancer drugs which make the cancerous cells more sensitive to radiotherapy, thereby enhancing the treatment process. However, both these therapies are very powerful, each with their own side effects. Hence, chemoradiation can sometimes have worse side effects.
- IMRT: Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a new technology in radiation oncology that delivers radiation more precisely to the tumor while relatively sparing the surrounding normal tissues. IMRT is being used most extensively to treat cancers of the prostate, head and neck, and central nervous system. IMRT has also been used in limited situations to treat breast, thyroid, lung, as well as in gastrointestinal, gynecologic malignancies and certain types of sarcomas. IMRT may also be beneficial for treating pediatric malignancies.
- IGRT: Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) is the use of imaging during radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of treatment delivery. IGRT is used to treat tumors in areas of the body that move, such as the lungs. Radiation therapy machines are equipped with imaging technology to allow your doctor to image the tumor before and during treatment. By comparing these images to the reference images taken during simulation, the patient’s position and/or the radiation beams may be adjusted to more precisely target the radiation dose to the tumor.
- Stereotactic radiation therapy is mainly used to treat small brain tumors that are either malignant or benign. It is used to treat:
- Tumors deep within the brain: Tumours that are hard to reach or that cannot be removed by surgery because doing so would damage too much normal brain tissue
- A recurrence or metastasis in the brain
- Stereotactic radiation may also be used to give an additional dose of radiation (boost) to the brain after conventional external beam radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.
This is just the basic overview of radiotherapy. One important thing that should be kept in mind is that radiotherapy treatments are planned depending on the condition of the patient. So even if two individuals suffer from the same type of cancer, the radiotherapy treatments might be different.
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